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Chilean Gang Burglarizing Wealthy Atherton Homes

ATHERTON (KPIX) — At least six burglaries of wealthy Atherton homes in January have been linked to Chilean gang members in a crime spree stretching from Northern California to San Diego County.

"They particularly target affluent communities just like Atherton," said Atherton Chief of Police Steven McCulley.

Chief McCully posted a warning to local residents on his agency's website to be extra careful.

"Of the eight burglaries this month, we suspect six were committed by organized Chilean gang members operating out of the Los Angeles area," said Chief McCully. "Chilean gang member burglaries have been a problem throughout San Mateo County and nationwide."

McCulley said his department was working with both the FBI and the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center to track the organized burglary ring.

"They are trained to come to the master bedroom," McCulley said. "They're looking for jewelry, high-end purses, clothing, anything that they're going to be able to fence; and they're literally in and out within 10 minutes."

According to the San Jose Mercury News, a week ago about $50,000 worth of jewelry and other items were stolen from an Atherton home on the first block of Lilac Drive. A resident reported that someone smashed a glass door at the back of their home and escaped with jewelry and other items.

San Diego County Sheriff's Detective Justin Cole told CBS 8 in the gang members are responsible for a variety of crimes in the town.

"The intelligence says they're primarily Chilean nationals, they're coming here on a tourist visa program," Cole told the station. "They're involved in all types of crime, not just residential burglaries. 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."

The group is known to authorities as the South American Theft Group. In Southern California, they have been linked to burglaries and other crimes in Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar and Chula Vista.

"It isn't just the same three or four people, there's different groups," said McCulley.

"If you have interstate transportation of stolen property, that's a federal crime," said retired Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jeff Harp. "They'll (the FBI) look at travel patterns for these individuals, they'll work with DHS, ICE and customs and border agents to see where these people are crossing and find out if they can determine where these people are staying, what are their contacts here."

McCulley is urging residents to keep their valuables out of their primary bedrooms, and always make it appear as if someone is home.

"A lot of people have objects of great value in their homes," said Janice, who is an Atherton resident and didn't want to release her last name for fear of the crime ring.

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