SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJLA) - An international theft ring, targeting upscale homes owned by minorities, has tiptoed into Montgomery County.
Investigators say the highly orchestrated crime syndicate, based out of Houston Tx., is targeting Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern residents. In accordance with religious and cultural tradition, individuals from all three ethnic groups often keep large quantities of valuables, including gold, in their homes.
According to court records obtained by ABC7 News, the worldwide ring sports a large roster of criminals. Most are Colombian nationals with false identities, living in the United States illegally. The thieves' modus operandi includes breaking into high-end homes, rummaging through bedrooms and offices, stealing currency, jewelry, guns and documents. Most of the stolen goods are then mailed back to Houston to be resold.
On Tuesday March 25, Montgomery County Police were called to a burglary in progress at a home along the 1800 block Middlebridge Drive in Silver Spring. A neighbor, sitting in his first floor den, had called 911 to report suspicious activity.
"It's just one of those things, I cannot believe I'm actually watching this," the man, who did not want to be identified, described. "I mean, they were really making it obvious that they were breaking into the house."
It was 12:35 p.m., a white Buick LaCrosse with three men inside parked along the quiet Silver Spring street. Two of the men reportedly exited the vehicle, walked-up the driveway, rang the doorbell, and then entered the backyard. According to charging documents filed in Montgomery County District Court, one of the men broke a rear window, in attempt to gain access to the two-story house.
"That's when I called 911," the observant neighbor added. "It was like surreal to actually watch a burglary in progress."
A swarm of officers flooded the neighborhood, arresting two men casually sitting in the white sedan: Alejandro Colorado-Rivas, 36, and Yesid Mosquera Valencia, 29. The third suspect, Yaniel Regalado-Muniz, 34, was later apprehended on foot along Layhill Road. All three men told officers they lived in Houston.
"It was kind of shocking to walk out your front door and see an officer with a gun," neighbor Stephen Stovall said.
While searching the suspect's vehicle, officers located a Garmin GPS unit. A handwritten list of eight residential addresses was also found in the car's center console. Further investigation showed the homes, located in Silver Spring, Potomac, Boyds, and Germantown, are all owned by Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern individuals.
"I guess there was some gold that was stolen, and that is part of the culture of the people next door... It is sad to see people targeted for that," Stovall added.
Suman Mukhopadhyay, a scientist at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, lives in the Middlebridge Drive home pinpointed by the crime ring. He called it a very personal attack against his family.
"The question that sometimes comes, why us?"
The Indian immigrant says it is tradition to keep family heirlooms made of gold - like necklaces and rings - in the home; not to build wealth, but for spiritual good fortune.
"The people who hand it to you, all their blessings are embedded in them," he said.
Three weeks before the March 25 incident, thieves broke into his house, ransacking rooms, making off with $70,000 in valuables. Detectives are still trying to determine if the two crimes are connected.
"Everything was taken out," Mukhopadhyay remarked, adding that the thieves ignored electronic items and art, only taking his family's cherished gifts of gold, most 22 karat, some dating back to the early 1900s.
"We have taken a hit. We have taken a loss and we really didn't know what the loss is," Mukhopadhyay added.
During police questioning, Colorado-Rivas, Valencia, and Regalado-Muniz reportedly admitted to their roles in the March 25 attempted break-in. They told detectives an unknown subject living in Houston directed them to Maryland. The trio said it was given a specific list of homes to burglarize over a four day period in late March.
"I can't imagine what it feels like to have someone break into your house, trash your house, take heirlooms that you can never replace," the anonymous neighbor said. "Everybody was really glad to see we got these three guys."
The three men are each facing ten felony burglary charges, which carry a combined maximum sentence of 200 years in prison. Police in Howard, Fairfax, and Loudon Counties are aiding Montgomery County in its ongoing investigation, as is the Department of Homeland Security.
"I'm grateful that they caught the guys, and let it be a warning to others, that neighbors are watching out around here," Stovall concluded.