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Law enforcement is blaming a spate of home burglaries in California on gangs of South American ‘crime tourists’ who target wealthy neighborhoods for their robberies before returning home with the loot.
The San Francisco suburb of Hillsborough is just the latest community plagued by similar schemes, as traveling bands of criminals from Chile, Colombia and elsewhere in South America have allegedly struck communities across the east coast, Indiana and Texas.
Hillsborough Police said it suspected the ‘crime tourists’ were behind at least one brazen robbery that took place last Friday night in the affluent Bay Area community, where the average home price sits around $5.4 million, according to Zillow.
Security footage from the home captured the moment a thief walked up to one of the homes and appeared to notice the camera as he quickly backed away.
The footage, shared by police, cuts to a scene later in the night as a black car rolls up to the driveway and two thieves walk out of the house with bags full of stolen goods.
One of the thieves appears to have trouble closing the door behind him as a third crook comes to assist him.
The thieves load up the car and return to the house to make off with more – before returning to steal the homeowner’s SUV and make their getaway.
A home camera captured the moment a group of thieves, who police believe are ‘crime tourists’ from South America, robbed a San Francisco Bay area home
The thieves made of with bags full of stolen property and an SUV from the luxe home
Cameras at the home caught close-ups of two masked suspects at the front door
The robbery was the latest to hit the affluent Hillsborough community, where homes average around $5.4 million, according to Zillow
Police in California, Texas, Indiana, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and New York have all reported robberies they believe were conducted by the so-called ‘crime tourists’
Police said the suspects were likely behind another robbery earlier this month where four thieves allegedly stole a safe from a home near the Hillsborough Country Club. They said credit cards in the safe were used in Modesto and Los Angeles County.
Hillsborough resident Matt Gouley told KPIX 5 said the robberies have left the neighborhood afraid, with neighbors constantly worried that anyone they don’t recognize could be a robber.
‘Recently I was stopped by a woman thinking I was a burglar — thief — and asking me what I’m doing here,’ Gouley said, adding that suspicion only grows when if someone is driving a dark van.
Hillsborough Police said the stolen car was recovered and that the thieves getaway vehicle was identified as a 2018 or newer Honda Civic.
They added that were working with other agencies in Southern California to investigate the robbery and crackdown on what they’ve taken to calling South American Theft Groups, or SATGs.
One such group is believed to behind at least six burglaries in Atherton, along with several other robberies screeching from Northern California to San Diego.
‘Of the eight burglaries this month, we suspect six were committed by organized Chilean gang members operating out of the Los Angeles area,’ Atherton Police Chief Steven McCully told KPIX. ‘Chilean gang member burglaries have been a problem throughout San Mateo County and nationwide.’
Law enforcement experts say the foreign cells of professional burglars – mostly from Columbia and Chile – enter the country illegally or exploit a visa waiver program intended to spur tourism from dozens of trusted countries.
After entering the country, they reportedly carry out strings of break-ins and other crimes, bringing home up to hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen goods, the FBI estimates.
Earlier this year, the FBI busted one of the groups in Virginia who exploited the state’s lax bail laws to steal more than $2 million in a string of burglaries targeting high-end homes of Asian and Middle Eastern families before skipping bail and fleeing back home.
The network of thieves were also connected to a series of burglaries at homes across the Carolinas, Georgia and Texas, as well as a $1 million jewelry heist in Southern California.
Detectives said Asian and Middle Eastern homeowners were targeted because the thieves believe that people of those cultures keep a lot of high value jewelry at home and have cash-oriented businesses.
Dan Heath, a supervisory special agent with the FBI’s criminal investigations division, said ‘South American theft groups,’ are a growing plague throughout the United States – and in countries including India , Britain and Australia, where they often employ similar tactics.
In January, British authorities took down dozens of crime tourists from Chile who stole more than $200,000 in a spring of robberies across the UK.
Police in Fischer, Indiana, also reported a series of home burglaries targeting expensive jewelry believed to be linked to criminal tourists.
‘A lot of these burglaries have been targeted specifically around jewelry, so more high-end homes, their jewelry is stored out in the open and they can be really high-valued items,’ Fischer Officer Jessica Stout told Fox 59.
Police in Nassau County, New York arrested their own band of criminal tourists earlier this month after police caught six men, all from Chile, breaking into a wealthy home, stealing thousands of dollars in jewelry and cash.
The FBI is cracking down on ‘crime tourists’ from South America who have exploited Virginia’s low bail laws to steal more than $2 million in a string of burglaries targeting high-end homes of Asian and Middle Eastern families before skipping bail and fleeing back home or to target homes in other states. Pictured is one of the affluent Virginia neighborhoods, near DC, which was targeted by the thieves
The visiting criminals are emboldened by their discovery of a ‘sweet spot’ in the American criminal system because their offenses don’t meet the requirements for federal investigation, and are often overlooked because the country is focusing on a frightening rise in homicides.
What’s more, no cash or low bail law allow the repeat offenders endless opportunities to continue to the brazen heists, even after being caught.
Like Virginia, California is one such state that criminals take advantage of due to its controversial 2014 law – Proposition 47 – that barred prosecutors from charging suspected shoplifters accused of stealing less than $950 worth of merchandise with felonies.
Many claim the law is what has led to a rise in burglaries and crimes throughout the state, especially in the San Francisco Bay area.
Larceny has seen a dramatic uptick in San Francisco, with police reporting 5,770 cases so far this year, a 27 percent rise since the same period last year.
Assaults have also gone up by 6.6 percent, with 434 cases reported so far compared to the 407 last year, and rape has also shot up by 11.4 percent, with 39 cases reported.
Although homicides remain the same at eight cases reported so far this year and robberies seeing a 10.6 percent drop, overall violent crime has gone up by 6.3 percent.