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Recent Huntington Burglaries May Be Tied to South American Theft Ring

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An uptick in burglaries in affluent Huntington Beach neighborhoods has been traced to South American crime groups. Wealthier neighborhoods in San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe and Del Mar also experienced a large number of break-ins tied to such crime groups. 

These rings — referred to as South American Theft Groups (SATG) — are coming to America pretending to be tourists before robbing homes throughout Southern California. Their newest target is Huntington Beach, where the Huntington Harbour neighborhood reported at least 20 burglaries this year. The FBI has a task force assigned to manage this ring. 

“The intelligence says they’re primarily Chilean nationals. They’re coming here on a tourist visa program. They’re involved in all types of crime, not just residential burglaries,” Detective Justin Cole said in an interview with CBS8. “They do pickpocket crime, break into vehicles, steal credit cards, anything they can do to make as much money as possible before they go back.”

Police have identified a pattern within each of the burglaries. Burglars use a high-end rental car in order to blend in with the neighborhood. A getaway driver remains in the car while a group of three to five men enters the home through a second-story window or balcony. The attacks tend to happen in the latter half of the week during the evening when residents are not home. 

The Huntington Beach Police Department has increased its surveillance signage and added patrols in the area, but residents say the burglaries have not stopped. 

“We have alarms. You could have motion sensors. They’re still getting in. They don’t care,” resident Lisa Rudy told MSN after her home was burglarized. “They’re in and out in five minutes. They know. They’re watching us. They know when we are not there.” 

The break-in that occurred in Rudy’s home fit the pattern associated with this crime group. 

“The glass was shattered. There was a very small hole in my upstairs balcony door,” Rudy told ABC. “The thieves had walked through that little hole, gone straight to my master bedroom which they proceeded to ransack [and] steal my safe and other valuables.”

KTLA reports that millions of dollars worth of cash, jewelry and other valuables have been taken from homes in the Huntington Harbour neighborhood. 

Recent burglary victim Cari Casteneda estimated that robbers took over a quarter of a million dollars in cash and jewelry from her home alone. Video surveillance shows three men ripping safe boxes off the walls before escaping out her back door where a getaway driver was waiting. 

Residents of Huntington Beach neighborhoods are working to better community security, such as by issuing a community crime newsletter. This comes along with increased police presence and the FBI’s special task force, though many feel the police are not doing enough. 

“They took our ladder, went up there, and that’s exactly how they got in,” Castenada told MSN. “I don’t feel safe here anymore. And I want that back. I’m not sure how we get that back.” 

Scarlett Roberts is a City News Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at sorobert@uci.edu.