Michigan Sheriff Sounds Alarm as Suspected International Burglary Gang Strikes Again

A string of heists in Oakland County last September resulted in significant losses for locals and now similar heists have resumed.
Michigan Sheriff Sounds Alarm as Suspected International Burglary Gang Strikes Again
A law enforcement officer puts up police tape at a crime scene in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Jan. 24, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/AFP via Getty Images)
Stephen Katte

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is sounding the alarm again about a suspected international gang of burglars returning to his Michigan county in search of high-end homes to target and rob.

Previously, Sheriff Bouchard warned about a string of heists in the area last September that resulted in significant losses for locals. Following the creation of a task force and multiple arrests, the burglaries ceased.
At an April 2 press conference, Sheriff Bouchard revealed similar heists have begun again. He said it’s unclear if the new round of burglaries is related to the previous break-ins traced to the Chilean suspects now facing charges.

“I think they’re back. In the last three or four days, we’ve had a number of super, super similar what we call MO’s,” he said.

“The home is empty, very large upscale homes, backed up to areas with little, or no observation from neighbors.”

An MO, or modus operandi, broadly refers to an individual or group’s working habits in the context of a business or criminal investigation. Around $800,000 in jewelery and cash has already been stolen from one home. Another home was targeted last Friday night.

Sheriff Bouchard says the gang is well-trained and equipped for the robberies. In some cases, they even disable wireless alarms by using a jammer.

“They are super well-trained when they get here, highly organized. They look like ninjas they’re all masked up, gloves they each have a backpack with their particular set of tools for their job in the burglary,” he said.

“They come in teams with backpacks, each with a different tool set. Some are breaching tools, and some are electronics that jam alarm systems.”

Upgrading Home Security

Sheriff Bouchard said that high-end homes that appear like they would have valuables inside are specifically being targeted. The thieves also appear to target houses backing onto golf courses, ponds, woods, or locations that give them access to come in unobserved.

Last time, the gang targeted homes in Bloomfield, Franklin, Farmington Hills, Novi, Birmingham, and the Oakland Township.

While the authorities are doing everything they can to shut down the new gang, Sheriff Bouchard says people can help deter the criminals by upgrading their security and following basic precautions, such as monitoring suspicious people or activities. Slowrolling vehicles watching homes, strangers taking a particular interest in certain houses and security systems are some of the red flags he says to stay vigilant about.

“If you have an alarm, use it. Try to get your devices hard-wired. Try to have redundancy of communication,” Sheriff Bouchard said.

“You have a hard-wired phone, you have an internet phone, and you have a cellular phone or radio backup,” he added.

Sheriff Bouchard also recommends refraining from posting about any vacation plans on social media.

“A lot of people post a selfie, ‘On my way to Florida for two weeks,’” he said.

“Well, now you’ve just told the whole world I’m leaving town. Even if it’s not these high-end folk, there’s a lot of people that troll Facebook and Twitter and social media. And you’ve just told everybody your house is empty.”

Another precaution Sheriff Bouchard advocates for is programming the local police department’s non-emergency number into your phone to ensure you call the proper authorities in an emergency.

“If you happen to be in Florida and your camera system alerts you to motion inside your kitchen, but for whatever reason your alarm wasn’t set or didn’t go off, and you dial 911, it’s going to go to Florida,” Sheriff Bouchard said.

“So now they’re going to try to figure out how to transfer it,” he added.

At the same time, Sheriff Bouchard is encouraging residents to call the police if they are in doubt because, at this stage, they would prefer to investigate “1,000 false alarms” rather than miss out on the “real deal.”

Calls for End to Visa Waiver

Other states have already traced burglary teams from Columbia and Venezuela using short-term rental homes or apartments as bases of operations and rotating in and out of various states.

According to Sheriff Bouchard, intelligence reports suggest at least 100 gangs operating nationwide. He believes that the most effective countermeasure would involve revising the Visa Waiver Program, considering that previous suspects apprehended in connection with crimes had entered the U.S. through this program.

“All of the intelligence estimates, just from Chile, we have 100-plus teams in operation right now in America, teams of four to six,” he said.

“What we encourage Washington to do, is stop the Visa Waiver Program right now for Chile. That doesn’t mean they can’t visit, but they just have to get a regular Visa, which comes with a little more scrutiny.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced hundreds of cameras would be installed in Oakland and East Bay to improve public safety. This move has been criticized as creating a surveillance state. Of the 480 cameras, 290 are expected to be deployed in and around Oakland, while 190 will be installed along state highways in East Bay.