International crime ring suspected in Grosse Pointe home invasions

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 9, 2021

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GROSSE POINTE PARK/SHORES — An international crime ring said to be responsible for break-ins around the country is believed to have been involved in home invasions in Grosse Pointe Park and Grosse Pointe Shores the evening of Feb. 1.

According to a police report from the Park, a group of four male suspects who are thought to be from Chile broke in through a rear glass door of a home in the 15000 block of Windmill Pointe Drive around 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 1 and searched a bedroom for jewelry and cash.

The suspects — said to be part of an organized crime crew from South America that’s based in Los Angeles — reportedly stole an estimated $20,000 in jewelry from the Park home before heading to a home in the 900 block of Lake Shore Road in the Shores around 8 p.m. Feb. 1, where they allegedly stole additional valuables. Park detectives said the suspects are members of a theft ring that the FBI is investigating.

“They’re very well organized,” Park Detective Sgt. Michael Narduzzi said.

Shores Public Safety Director Ken Werenski said they recovered a vehicle “that was related to our home invasion,” and law enforcement officials were processing the vehicle for evidence.

Because of the international scope of this case, local police are collaborating with their peers at other agencies on the investigation.

“We’re working with state authorities, we’re working with federal authorities, to utilize all of those resources,” Werenski said. “We’re utilizing every resource we can.”

Narduzzi said the FBI has dubbed this crew the “South American Theft Group.” He said they use Google Maps to select homes with certain characteristics.

“They go around the country breaking into high-end homes,” Narduzzi said.

Police were called to the Shores home after a burglar alarm sounded at 8:08 p.m. Feb. 1. Werenski said police were met by a caretaker for the home, who said he had seen someone in an upstairs bedroom. The homeowners weren’t present at the time.

Despite what Werenski said was a “very quick” response time, the suspects were gone by the time officers arrived.

The suspects are said to have fled on foot through the rear of the house, based on footprints in the snow. Werenski said officers followed the footprints along the breakwall and through several backyards before the trail ended on Lake Shore Road, which is where the suspects are thought to have been picked up by a getaway driver. Werenski said the Shores called in Grosse Pointe Farms K-9 Duke and his handler, officer Tim Harris, who tracked the suspects and confirmed the path that Shores officers believe the suspects took.

“We never saw anybody,” said Werenski, adding that they felt there had been more than one suspect involved. “We never saw a vehicle.”

While Shores officers were scouring the area, Werenski said a Grosse Pointe Woods officer spotted a suspicious-looking van that had been abandoned in the area of Woods Lane and Morningside Drive, near the Shores border. The Woods officer saw what appeared to be personal property inside the vehicle, and when Shores officers arrived to check it out, Werenski said they could see that “the property in the van matched the property that was taken in Grosse Pointe Park,” so the van was immediately secured and impounded to be processed for evidence.

Narduzzi said they recovered all of the items stolen from the Park residents from that vehicle. Werenski said they were still working with the Shores homeowner to determine what, if anything, might have been taken from that address; the suspects reportedly ransacked the Shores home before fleeing.

Although Werenski said the modus operandi in the Park seems to match the one in the Shores, he said he wasn’t prepared to confirm that both incidents were the work of the same suspects until findings come back from FBI and state police evidence technicians, who were called in to process the van and check for fingerprints, DNA and the like.

“We have a lot of pieces of the puzzle,” Werenski said. “The picture is becoming clearer as to what happened. We’re committed to solving this crime. And we’re also committed to respecting the privacy of the (victims).”

While it’s impossible to stop all crimes like this one, there are some steps homeowners can take to decrease their likelihood of becoming a victim. Narduzzi recommends the installation of home surveillance systems and an alarm, and even having a dog, because the barking — even from a small pooch — sometimes scares off would-be crooks. Neither of the homes targeted in the Pointes had a dog, but Narduzzi said an alarm on the Shores house did scare off the suspects.

Narduzzi said it’s believed that the suspects are now in another state.

“They were gone that night,” Narduzzi said.

These incidents remained under investigation at press time. Anyone with more information can call the Park Public Safety Department at (313) 822-7400 or the Shores Public Safety Department at (313) 881-5500.