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International crime organization blamed for burglaries in upscale Northeast Ohio communities

Thieves target cash, expensive jewelry
thieves.png
Posted at 7:37 PM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 19:39:51-05

CLEVELAND — An international crime ring responsible for burglaries at homes in high-end neighborhoods from coast-to-coast could be to blame for at least three burglaries in Gates Mills and Moreland Hills, according to the FBI.

Three people caught on camera breaking into a Gates Mills home are suspected of being part of the South American Theft Group, according to authorities.

“It appears to be they are researching high-end homes and going into them when no one is home and stealing jewelry, watches, high-end purses, things like that,” said Special Agent Vicki Anderson.

On January 30, Gates Mills police believe members of the group made a stop in their community. Police officers responded to an alarm call when they discovered a broken window in the back of the home.

“Someone went into the master bedroom and that’s where the items were stolen from, at the residence,” said Gates Mills Police Chief Gregg Minichello.

The thieves got away with about $25,000 in cash and jewelry. Just minutes later, in Moreland Hills, two break-ins believed to be connected to the organized crime ring happened. Police say all of the thefts fit the modus operandi.

In all of the local cases, the break-ins happened between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m., at homes in high-end neighborhoods; expensive items and cash were taken. Within days of the Northeast Ohio break-ins, police in the Columbus suburb of Bexley investigated a burglary they believe is connected to the group.

On February 1, the minivan police spotted in Gates Mills was seen in the same upscale Michigan suburb where crooks got away with an estimated $20,000 in jewelry.

“We think they are here on visas, they’re from out of the country and they’re engaging in thefts across the US,” said Anderson.

The FBI says the South American Theft Group has targeted communities across the country for the last several years. Last year, in New York, police arrested five people from Chile for a string of thefts on Long Island. And in 2019, California authorities arrested three suspects from Chile connected to a string of break-ins in Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Because of the frequency of the crimes, the FBI has started a task force to try and put the organization out of business.

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