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International gang targets upscale county homes

By Lisa Brody

An international gang is targeting very high-end homes in Oakland County, including a few in Bloomfield Township's Turtle Lake subdivision, with break-ins during which luxury purses, jewelry, expensive watches and cash are confiscated, according to Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard on Thursday, September 28.

Bloomfield Township police confirmed that two homes in the Turtle Lake subdivision have been targeted and hit by this crew, once on Friday, September 1, at approximately 9 p.m., and another time on Friday, September 22, at approximately 8 p.m.

According to township police, it is an organized crew that is not local to Michigan, with some law enforcement speculating the break-ins are the work of criminals from another country. For the past two years, especially on the west coast, international gangs from South America, including Chile, have been entering the country on tourist visas and then conduct robberies of luxury homes. Cases have been reported on both coasts and in the midwest in the last year, according to media reports from other states.

They are targeting large high-end homes, typically entering through a second story window by breaking the window in an attempt to bypass security. Officials say that it appears that the crew prefers unoccupied homes, including waiting for homeowners to leave.

Bloomfield Township Police Chief James Gallagher said the Oakland County Sheriff's Office is now taking on and coordinating the burglary cases due to the number of homes around the county believed to have been targeted and broken into, which Bouchard put at nine, although he said there could be more. The sheriff said they are going back through local agency records and looking to see if there is a pattern, and he would not be surprised if there is. He confirmed upscale home robbery cases in Franklin and Novi had “very similar facts.”

All Oakland County law enforcement agencies are working together “hand-in-glove and partnering quickly and focusing on this,” he said.

“It appears these are opportunistic crimes, now that we are connecting the dots,” Bouchard said. “They are targeting high-end homes with very high-end valuables and expensive items inside,” which he described as cash, jewelry, high-end watches, purses and even small safes which they can carry. There is not a neighborhood being targeted, but high-end homes.”

Law enforcement officials emphasized that this burglary crew may come in a backyard, and often case out neighborhoods, including gated communities, with wooded areas adjacent. They then pop out a window, which would not typically trigger a motion sensor alarm like opening a window, and then wait and see if a light comes on or if an alarm is triggered. “If nothing happens, they go right through that window opening,” Bouchard said, without opening any outside doors. “They avoid opening exterior doors or windows so they can avoid setting off alarms. Sometimes if no one is home and nothing goes off, they're in these homes an extensive amount of time.”

Bouchard and Gallagher emphasized that homeowners can help to prevent these break-ins.

“Lock your cars when you're inside. You have garage openers in cars, and lots of doors to the garage are unlocked. Lock interior doors,” Bouchard said. “Lock windows. Set your alarm at all times. Make sure outside cameras are properly positioned and working, and examine your alarm system and make sure it has different layers so if a window is broken, there is a sensor as well as interior home motion sensors.”

He noted that in several cases the homeowners had not set their alarms when they were not home.

They also recommended to homeowners to “tune into your environment. Your neighborhood is more familiar to you than to officers. Note where cars are parked and people are walking.”

Both Gallagher and Bouchard noted that these thieves are often coming in from the back, so it is imperative that homeowners be aware of everyone and everything around their homes.

“Call us or your local police,” Bouchard said. “Better to be safe than sorry.”

Gallagher concurred. “In my 24 years here, we have never had a crime spree like this in the township,” he said.


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