An international crime ring based in Chile may be responsible for a number of burglaries within the Santa Clarita Valley, investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported this week.
On Thursday, Sgt. Michael Maher of the LASD Major Crimes Unit said his department is involved in an ongoing investigation that involves young men, often in their late teens or early 20s, flying in from other countries to burglarize affluent neighborhoods throughout the country.
“I have a concern that these burglaries may very well be organized by Chilean crews,” said Maher over a phone call on Friday. “We believe they’re coming to a location that’s already leased and rented to them — meaning it’s a long-term, organized operation — and they come here on a tourist or student visa to hit Los Angeles, in this case.”
For the past few years, news reports from the city of Los Angeles began to report on Chilean crime rings being held responsible for a number of thefts that had similar details and suspects involved. After a handful of years, suspicions of the international crime ring committing SCV burglaries began to take hold with local law enforcement.
“It is a fair belief that many high-dollar-loss burglaries in and around the Santa Clarita Valley, in areas such as Stevenson Ranch and Sand Canyon in particular, are likely the result of these types of burglaries.”
No arrests directly connected to the SCV thefts have yet been made, but Maher said video footage, evidence left at local crime scenes and witness statements have led investigators to believe the crime ring has operated in Santa Clarita for the last 12 to 18 months, with the most recent to have allegedly occurred in Sand Canyon a few months ago.
Investigators have said the way in which the burglars commit their crimes is very similar, regardless of where they occur. Historically, the crews have been made up of young men who fly into the U.S., have a car rented to them from particular car rental businesses, and they then travel around together, breaking into homes in the early evening.
The homes, Maher said, are selected for a number of reasons, but one primary similarity is they can be hiked to – treacherous terrain backed up to a house generally means the house is more isolated – and can be accessed from the second story while people are home, downstairs and unsuspecting.
“They tend to hike in (and out) via trails, or open space, like a park or golf course, and they target upper-middle-class, typical suburban homes,” said Maher. “They tend to make entries on a second story … they’re not oftentimes coming in a front door or lower window.”
“Whatever can be carried in a backpack or on their person,” said Maher, when answering a question about what is generally taken. “So, cash, jewelry, firearms, valuables … they are stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Maher said that while Major Crimes, local law enforcement and the FBI are continuing to work on ending the operation, he warned people to take further precautions and appropriate action to secure their homes. The international crime ring members arrested in connection to burglaries in other communities generally have been returned to their home country.
“Lights on security cameras are great, dogs are good, lights are great and then making your home appear occupied, whether it is or isn’t,” he said. “And if you see something, say something… you shouldn’t be paranoid, but you should be appropriately suspicious if something looks funky.”