This story originally said there had been a $1 million burglary in San Diego targeting celebrities, which was incorrect. In fact, when the San Diego County Sheriff's Department tweeted, "We put this information out to some specific neighborhoods a couple of weeks ago. Since then, there was a $1M burglary involving celebrities," it was referring to a crime in Los Angeles involving actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli. We regret the error.— Ed.
A burglary ring targeting the super wealth has been operating in some of San Diego County's most exclusive communities since May of last year, according to local law enforcement.
The San Diego County Sheriff's office tweeted out Wednesday that the burglary ring has been operating since May of last year in some of San Diego County's most exclusive neighborhoods. Homes have been hit in north Poway, Rancho Santa Fe and 4S Ranch, usually broken into by three intruders and a fourth person who acts as a getaway driver (all of whom are thought to be men).
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Investigators have not identified any of the victims targeted by the ring, sheriff's department Capt. Dave Schaller said that the ring is believed to have struck more than 60 times in San Diego County.
"This is a national thing," Schaller said. "They are casing and know who they are going after, focusing on the super-wealthy."
The department stressed that the ring typically targets empty homes, going so far as to leave residences where occupants are present, and said there was no evidence the men are armed, nor has any homeowner "been confronted or detained by suspects." In fact, video has been captured of the men leaving several yards after seeing people inside homes; when confronted, they have run away, according to deputies.
The crooks usually operate within a few hours of nightfall, wearing hoodies, masks and gloves, and have often targeted homes that abut golf courses, hiking trails or greenbelts. While officials have not identified the locations of specific homes that were broken into, it is worth noting that there are only two golf courses in those communities: The Maderas Golf Club, in North Poway; and the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.
Schaller said that the ring is known to investigators.
"They are referred to as the South American theft groups, SATG, by investigators—there is an FBI task force on this," Schaller said. "They have been seen on cameras but their faces are always covered."
Schaller said a loss of $300,000 is the largest reported locally.
"Stuff they can quickly turnaround with," Schaller said. "Not taking stuff like TVs."
After determining a property owner is out, the burglars seem to target second-floor doors, which are frequently not alarmed, though they have also hit some one-story properties, deputies said. Once inside, the thieves focus on closets and master bedrooms, searching for safes and ransacking rooms for cash, of course, as well as jewelry and handbags.
The commision of the crimes is fast, officals said, with the burglars typically inside a home for only a few minutes.
Deputies are urging homeowners to get alarm systems, and, if they have one, to set them when they go out, "target harden" houses by adding glass-break sensors, motion sensors and sirens, saying that the crooks have fled when alarms went off. Residents with motion sensors are being told to add notifications to their cell-phone apps and to call deputies if they are alerted.
Finally, deputies said to consider using "smart lights' to make it appear a home is occupied, and to inform neighbors and law enforcement during extended absences so that deputies can do vacation checks.