Los Angeles ‘Burglary Tourist’ Gangs Flying in on Visas to Rob Mansions

Los Angeles ‘Burglary Tourist’ Gangs Flying in on Visas to Rob Mansions

Police officers in Hollywood, Calif., on March 10, 2024. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Jen Krausz

Jen Krausz

3/18/2024

Updated: 3/18/2024

Gangs of “burglary tourists” from South America are increasingly exploiting U.S. temporary visas that don’t require background checks to fly into Los Angeles and rob mansions, then flee back to their home countries with the valuables, police officials in the Los Angeles Police Department said.
A total of 94 burglaries were attributed to residents of Chile, Ecuador, Columbia, and Peru in just one part of L.A. in 2023, according to LAPD officials.
Last month, the burglary tourism is believed to have spread to Long Island and New Jersey. The gangs have been considered an “enormous threat” to the United States by the FBI since 2022.
The FBI has had its own task force to deal with the crimes since 2022, but the problem has only grown.
The gang activity has increased even more in the past few months, and now the LAPD is announcing a task force to double down on efforts to catch the lanzas internacionales, or “international thieves.”
“The number of crimes tied to these kind of crews are way, way up” even though burglaries overall are down, LAPD Deputy Chief Alan Hamilton said.
The 90-day visas being used to enter the country were meant to increase tourism in the United States from trusted countries. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) dates back to 2014.
South Americans can enter the United States under this program for an unlimited number of 90-day periods.
Many of the gang members have been arrested for the thefts, but they target cities with lax bail laws and fly back home while out on bail.
No guns are used in the robberies, and in this way they can avoid gun charges. Instead, they have devices that let them infiltrate the home’s Wi-Fi to unlock security systems that use the internet.
To break in, the thieves look for homes that can be accessed from “open spaces,” i.e. hiking trails and canyons.
They may use ladders or stack the patio furniture to access the master bedroom on the second floor, which is less likely to have an alarm system.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric is not cooperating with U.S. officials to catch the thieves; he has refused to disclose the criminal histories of citizens using the ESTA system.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer is suing Mr. Boric to get this information, as well as calling for laws that will stop criminals from entering the country.
Another step officials have taken is to designate one prosecutor to deal with crimes related to “burglary tourism.”
“We’re in the process of connecting with other agencies impacted by these organized groups coming to the country specifically to engage in this criminal activity,” Mr. Hamilton said.
Police caught a 17-year-old Chilean after a series of jewelry heists, but he was able to convince police his parents had left him with a relative and disappeared when he was turned over to LA County Children and Family Services.
He was eventually caught in Arizona along with two others in his alleged gang, Grecia Romanduski Gaete Castillo, 32, and Sebastian Jesus Parraguez Soto, 22. They admitted to several thefts of wealthy homes.
Another gang was found with more than $1 million in clothing from a single robbery in Beverly Hills in late December.
As part of the press conference, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the thieves were “students of the game. They’re studying where the money is.”
Some of the gangs have taken home hundreds of millions of dollars of stolen property, the FBI said.
The UK Daily Mail reported that similar gangs have also struck the United Kingdom.
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Jen Krausz

Jen Krausz

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