SIMI VALLEY (CBSLA) – Local and federal law enforcement agencies believe that a sophisticated ring of burglars from Chile is responsible for dozens of burglaries across the Southland, including a $1 million jewelry heist in Laguna Niguel and multiple home break-ins in Ventura County.
Ventura County Sheriff’s officials told CBS2 Wednesday that it is investigating whether 35 burglaries in the past four months at affluent homes were committed by the same group of people.
“The suspects would often target master bedrooms, where the victims were keeping cash, jewelry, expensive handbags, and currency of course,” sheriff’s Det. Ted Stern said.
The burglars were professional and methodical, breaking in through back doors, backing up into open spaces, and barricading front doors to ensure they do not get caught.
“We believe the suspects were doing this because if they were to be interrupted by residents returning home, or law enforcement, they would have that additional notice,” Stern said.
Investigators got a break in the cases in January when a detective encountered the lookout and getaway driver in two of the burglaries, Stern explains. He led them to three more suspects in his burglary crew.
All four were arrested. Police believe they are responsible for at least six of the 35 burglaries.
The suspects, all in their 20s, were in the U.S. by way of a temporary visa waiver program from Chile, Stern said.
Earlier this month, three Chilean men were arrested on allegations they broke into several vehicles near hiking trails in Simi Valley by jamming the signals from the victims’ key fobs.
The suspects would use an electronic jamming device which interrupts the signal from the victim’s key fob, preventing the car from being locked remotely, police said. Victims would press the lock button as they were walking away from the car and assume that it had locked, when in fact it hadn’t.
Last month, about $1 million worth of jewelry was stolen in an elaborate heist at a Laguna Niguel jewelry store. Investigators believe all these cases are part of a large, elaborate burglary ring that sends the stolen items back to Chile.
“They’ve basically developed a system to where they can steal this property, sell it, fence it, ship it back to Chile,” Stern said.
U.S. investigators are trying to determine exactly how many total suspects may be part of this elaborate ring of thieves. An FBI spokesperson told CBS2 that the FBI has reached out to its counterparts in Chile for assistance.