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South American Theft Groups Target Asian, Middle Eastern Family Homes

Detectives crept into the parking lot of a Virginia Days Inn in March and surreptitiously attached GPS trackers to a white minivan and a gray sedan. It was the culmination of a years-long investigation into a skilled burglary ring, one that authorities say netted about $2 million by focusing on a very specific target: high-end homes of Asian and Middle Eastern families in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, the Washington Post reports. .The investigators didn’t know who the burglars were, but they had spent months painstakingly following a trail of digital clues to this nondescript motel. When the vehicles pulled out with GPS devices activated, police officers soon stumbled onto something far larger than a local break-in crew --a sophisticated criminal phenomenon with roots in South America and a worldwide reach.

Cells of professional South American burglars, particularly from Colombia and Chile, are entering the U.S. illegally or exploiting a visa waiver program meant to expedite tourism from dozens of trusted foreign countries. They travel from state to state carrying out scores of burglaries, jewelry heists and other crimes, pilfering tens or hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of goods each year. Bail for nonviolent property offenses is often low, so an arrested burglar often quickly gets bond and skips town for the next job. They attract less attention at a time when U.S. authorities are contending with a rise in homicides. FBI agent Dan Heath says “South American theft groups” are a growing problem across the U.S. and in countries including India, Britain and Australia, where they employ similar tactics. “They represent an enormous threat right now in our country,” Heath said. “They are tending to thread the needle in avoiding both state and federal prosecution.” Detectives think Asian and Middle Eastern families are targeted because burglars believe they sometimes keep family wealth in gold and jewelry or have large amounts of cash on hand for th


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