The videos show men dressed all in black, in teams of three or four, using special equipment to quietly breach windows, enter mansions in Oakland County and escape quickly with currency, jewelry, costly purses and safes.
One man holds “a jammer” to disable wireless burglar alarms, enabling what authorities said were among more than 30 break-ins of high-end homes in Oakland County since September. The suspects?
“Transnational gangs, with people we think are mainly from Chile,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said.
“We had five of these incidents just over the weekend” in Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township – “seven over Thanksgiving weekend” in Oakland County, “and I know the Grosse Pointes have been hit,” Bouchard said.
He spoke Wednesday at his headquarters offices in Pontiac as police chiefs from more than a dozen departments in Oakland County stood behind him, having pledged support for a regional task force to target the gangs. The task force not only has two dozen police departments in Oakland County but also has Wayne County agencies, including police in Grosse Pointe Farms, Canton, and Northville; and others in Macomb County, where Shelby, Chesterfield, and the Macomb County Sheriff are members. As well, the FBI, U.S. Border Patrol, and Secret Service have said they’ll assist, Bouchard said.
The gangs are “very well trained. The surveillance video we have makes them look all white. That's because it’s filming at night. They’re all in black.
“They very often try to approach homes in a secluded manner – from woods, for example. They’re looking for jewelry, cash, safes, even a larger safe. They’ll take that with them and try to brute-force it open later,” he said.
“If you’ve got a high-end home, you may be a target,” Bouchard said. The gangs don’t appear to be violent, he said. “In one of the few times when they went into a house and the people were home, as soon as they found out, they ran,” he said.
Bouchard declined to give specifics about recent suspects or arrests, although he said investigations in Oakland County point to visitors on temporary visas, and other newcomers to the U.S., from Chile, as well as Venezuela and Colombia.
“We are anticipating charges very soon on forthcoming cases,” in addition to the charges filed against four Chilean men in custody from last summer’s smash-and-grab heists at two jewelry stores – in Auburn Hills at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, and in Troy at the Macy’s store in Oakland Mall. The four had been living in Pontiac, according to police at the time.
The quartet was caught after police put the get-away car they used in Auburn Hills under surveillance, then watched on Aug. 24 as three men entered Macy’s in Troy while a fourth drove the car onto northbound I-75 and parked on the shoulder directly opposite the mall. The trio of thieves pepper-sprayed store employees, smashed jewelry cases to grab loot, then dashed west across the mall’s parking area before leaping the freeway fencing to reach their accomplice. As the group drove off, police positioned cars around them and forced their vehicle to a stop, then made the arrests without incident, according to previous Free Press reports.
“This isn’t a typical investigation. That’s why we need so many partners,” Bouchard said. The problem of transnational gangs is a national problem, and probably began several years ago, “but now they’ve found Oakland County,” he said.
“This has nothing to do with immigration. If somebody’s here illegally but working hard, that’s policy for the federal government to decide. We’ve concerned with people coming here to commit crimes."
A mansion in Franklin village was recently struck, as was another big house “just outside our jurisdiction” in Farmington Hills, said Franklin police Chief Dan Roberts.
“In ours, they came in through the second floor,” something the gangs often do to evade motion detectors at ground level, Roberts said.
“That was a very wealthy house that backed up to woods,” he said. "Thankfully, the FBI is involved because they have boots on the ground in Chile and these other countries” in South America, he said.
Collaboration among agencies is vital “because the get-away outside our township may be where we stop this,” said Bloomfield Township police Chief James Gallagher.
“That can happen in any community. These arrests will be made with a traffic stop by an alert police officer,” Gallagher said.
Contact Bill Laytner: email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Oakland County sheriff: 'Transnational gangs' are stealing from mansions