A San Diego cop once hailed as a hero for pulling an elderly couple from a burning home was taken into custody yesterday after a two-month investigation concluded he was selling stolen goods on eBay.


Patrol Officer James Estrella was arrested with his wife at their Chula Vista mobile home as sheriff's investigators crawled through a warehouse packed with electronic and sporting equipment.

Investigators say the couple, working at computer stations in the warehouse, sold 800 to 1,000 items a month on the popular Internet auction site, grossing up to $20,000 monthly.

Estrella, 45, and his wife, Ruth, 35, are suspected of using different account names to sell goods to buyers around the world since 1999, including $6,500 worth of sound equipment recently stolen from an Escondido church, sheriff's Sgt. Kim Carson said.

Some of the church's property ended up in England and Hawaii.

"This is one of the larger fencing operations I've ever seen in my 26-year career," Carson said yesterday. "It looks like a full-time operation."

Estrella, a patrol officer in the San Diego Police Department's Southern Division, has been on a voluntary leave of absence for several months, said department spokesman Dave Cohen. He said he did not know why. Estrella and his wife were booked into jail last night on suspicion of possessing stolen property.