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Thefts ‘way, way up’

South American “crime tourists” who exploit the US visa system to enter the country and commit burglaries have now infiltrated at least half the states in America and taken “millions of untraceable” goods, The Post has learned.
The organized groups of burglars and jewel thieves, particularly from Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, have been targeting wealthy homes across the US for decades, but their crimes have spread — and recently soared in some cities, authorities say.
“They travel to cities across the nation – including in Maricopa County – and steal millions in untraceable items,” said Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, whose office oversees such Arizona cities as Phoenix and Scottsdale, which have been collectively hit by by more than 100 burglaries believed to have been carried out by the groups since November.
“This is a group that is taking advantage of the relationship that certain countries in South America have with the United States so that they don’t have to have a lot of scrutiny coming in,” Mitchell told The Post.
5 A suspected member of one of the South American theft groups is caught on video outside a home in LA. NBC 4
The crooks hone in on the US government’s tourist visa program, which is friendly to their countries and allows them to fly into the US without a background check, authorities say.
They are then careful to commit nonviolent property offenses because the bar to be held on bail in most states, including New York, is high, so they are able to flee the country or disappear into oblivion afterward — and before they can be tried and convicted, Mitchell said.
Burglars linked to the so-called “South American Theft Group” — a broad term given by law-enforcement agencies to the rings — have been responsible for hundreds of US break-ins so far this year alone, officials say.
They have been tied to burglaries in major US cities, small towns and gated communities alike in states such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Michigan,Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia and the Carolinas, among many others, a Post analysis shows.
5 Heists by LA “crime tourist” burglars are on the rise. NBC 4
The FBI has issued warnings about the theft groups for years and in December acknowledged that they believe such burglars are exploiting tourist visas to travel in and out of the US and facilitate the theft and transport of stolen goods internationally. The federal agency — which has previously described the gangs as “an enormous threat” to the US — did not respond to questions from The Post.
Some of the groups’ most recent arrests unfolded in Scottsdale and Phoenix last week, just days after a separate spate of burglaries by others in Los Angeles, Calif., as well as “millionaire neighborhoods” in Baltimore, Md.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are just some of the affluent US neighborhoods that have been hit hard by the group:
Phoenix and Scottsdale slammed
Mitchell announced last week that six people believed to be part of one of the groups were facing charges over a massive string of burglaries — more than 100 since November 2023.
“The federal government’s tourist visa program allows them to fly into the United States without a background check. Once they’ve entered our county, they immediately obtain fake I.D.,” she said in a statement.
“One defendant admitted to being in the U.S. on a tourist visa and had already been a part of burglaries in California, Nevada, and Arizona.”
5 An intruder believed to be a South American “crime tourist” scrambles around a home in Simsbury, Conn., last week. News8 WTNH
Mitchell said she now requires adults in these cases to be held on $200,000 cash bail but claimed the same enforcement level isn’t happening in other parts of the country affected by the burglaries.
“It’s interesting when they get arrested, and when they’re in front of the judge, they’re shocked that a bail amount is set here because they don’t have that over in California,” Mitchell said.
“Their failures there are affecting us here, and we can do so much, but the reality is it is one country, and people are moving into this country.”
Hamilton County, Indiana suspects
Four suspects from Chile allegedly swiped $250,000, including jewelry, from homes in a gated community in Hamilton County last year.
In February, one of the four was sentenced to two years in prison.
After serving time in Indiana, the suspect will then be sent to Michigan, where she is facing similar charges.
According to an affidavit, the four suspects have ties to a South American Theft Group and traveled from California to Ohio, then to Indiana and Michigan, where they allegedly burglarized multiple homes.
Homes hit in Los Angeles
Wealthy LA residents are increasingly seeing their luxury goods stolen by bands of “crime tourists,” according to cops.
In a notice last week, the LAPD said it “recognizes the increase in burglaries where homes in affluent neighborhoods are targeted.”
5 LAPD Chief Dominic Choi says high-end burglaries by the groups are on the rise in the city. AP
“I can tell you that we have a significant increase in burglaries from organized groups that are outside this country, that are coming into the country, and they are targeting high-end residents,” Police Chief Dominic Choi said.
So far this year alone, the department has recorded nearly 1,000 home burglaries in LA.
The police department has formed a task force to counter a rise in gangs from Latin America that have joined in targeting luxury homes in Southern California.
“The number of crimes tied to these kind of crews are way, way up” despite overall burglaries being down, LAPD Deputy Chief Alan Hamilton told the Los Angeles Times earlier this week.
Police said a 17-year-old Chilean national responsible for a series of jewel heists in LA falsified Venezuelan identification and repeatedly evaded officers by claiming that his parents left him alone in the country with a friend of the family, the Times said.
He was turned over to LA County Children and Family Services but disappeared before he was caught in Arizona.
Two others in his alleged gang, 32-year-old Grecia Romanduski Gaete Castillo and 23-year-old Sebastian Jesus Parraguez Soto, both also from Chile, were also taken into custody and admitted breaking into several homes.
Another Chilean national, Felipe Leiva Solis, 33, was arrested several times last year after being suspected of being part of an “organized burglary ring responsible for a minimum of 10 residential burglaries,” according to the Times.
5 Delaware authorities put out information on suspected members of a South American theft group. New Castle County Police
A detective claimed in court documents that Solis was part of a gang linked to 30 thefts in West LA.
The group is believed to be responsible for 94 burglaries in just one section of the city in 2023 alone, officials with the Los Angeles Police Department told the Times.
‘Millionaire neighborhoods’ targeted in Baltimore
Baltimore County cops this month announced that five suspects who burgled homes in “millionaire neighborhoods” had been arrested Feb. 3.
In court records, cops said the suspects were positively identified through border control as members of one of the South American theft groups, and the police department said the men caught in Baltimore County have been connected to additional residential burglaries in North Carolina, Alabama and Oklahoma.
The groups target “large homes in wealthy areas of often Asian business owners,” police wrote in charging documents. “Detectives know the group to be a traveling unsettled group who do not reside in the area where they commit their crimes. The group travels around the country committing thefts/burglaries then leave the area before they are identified or apprehended,”
Investigators say the thieves typically act when homeowners are away. But there have been instances where the burglars pose as delivery drivers or utility workers to gain access.
The thieves are known to steal jewelry, watches, designer merchandise, cash and gold bars.
Nearly $1.7M in jewels snagged in Greenwich, Conn.
South American group snagged nearly $1.7M in jewels in tony Greenwich, Conn.
Thieves with one group pinched a safe containing high-end jewelry valued at more than $1.65 million, along with personal information, from a Greenwich home after climbing through a kitchen window.
The stolen-property list provided by the homeowners ran 89 pages, investigators detailed in the warrant.
The break-in happened in the evening when the residents were out May 18, 2022, the Greenwich Time reported.
Migrant Cortes Munoz was eventually arrested and charged with first-degree larceny and third-degree burglary in relation to the heist.
Homeland Security files on Cortes Munoz show he had never been documented crossing the border and that his visa applications to visit the US all had been denied, according to the warrant.
The document indicated that he may have entered the country illegally “and that his criminal history in Chile prevented him from being granted a Visa,” the warrant stated.
The files suggest thatCortes Munoz also was “recognized as an active member of a South American Theft Group,” the warrant reads.

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