Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard announces a new task force, called Southeast Michigan Collaborate Arrest and Prosecute, or SEMCAP, to investigate the rise in high-end home burglaries.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard announces a new task force, called Southeast Michigan Collaborate Arrest and Prosecute, or SEMCAP, to investigate the rise in high-end home burglaries.

Photo by Mary Beth Almond

Sheriff creates task force to combat rise in Oakland County home burglaries

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published December 13, 2023


OAKLAND COUNTY — An increase in thieves breaking into multimillion-dollar homes across northern Oakland County and stealing valuables has prompted Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard to create a new task force targeting what he believes is a transnational crime ring.

The Southeast Michigan Collaborate Arrest and Prosecute team, or SEMCAP, is a multi-jurisdictional task force made up of over a dozen police departments throughout southeast Michigan, the Michigan State Police, the FBI and others.

The task force is working together to combat organized and trained thieves who have been targeting certain areas of the United States — including Michigan — breaking into affluent homes in search of cash, jewelry, high-end clothing, purses and other products that can be easily shipped and sold.

“All of the agencies involved have committed to do all they can to partner and share resources and information,” Bouchard said. “The reason it’s so important is because this group is so highly functional, they are well-trained, and they are targeting our region and other places across the country. We are very much in the crosshairs.”

Since September, there have been at least 30-40 home burglaries across various communities in Oakland County, according to Bouchard.

“We are trying to get a handle on it,” he said. “All of us getting together starts to put the picture on how big this is and how long it’s been going on.”

Crews targeting homes in Oakland County are of Chilean origin, Bouchard said, based on recent arrests.

“Transnational gangs, specifically in our area, are Chilean, primarily, coming from Chile, typically in teams of four (to) six,” he said. “Our area has been very much hammered by the very high-end burglaries, but we also have been hit, and, thankfully — with the assistance of the Violent Crime Task Force, the FBI, Auburn Hills, Troy, Bloomfield Township and a bunch of folks gathering together — we ended up catching a team that was doing the jewelry store robberies in Oakland County. They’re in my jail. They’re all from Chile.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced three more arrests stemming from an investigation into criminal rings operating in the metro-Detroit area. The three suspects, arrested in Indiana, have been tied to eight break-ins that took place between Feb. 3 and 11 in Ada Township, Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills, Grosse Pointe Farms, Rochester and Rochester Hills. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified each, all Chilean nationals, as being members of the formally designated South American Theft Group.

But as criminals are apprehended by police, new crews are sent to the United States from overseas to replace them, resulting in what seems like a never-ending cycle of crime.

“We applaud the charging of three suspects accused in high-end break-ins at homes in our county, but we want to be clear that these suspects have been in custody for months,” Bouchard said in a statement. “These suspects — while connected to the same transnational network that has committed countless burglaries across the country — are not the criminals responsible for the rash of break-ins in southeast Michigan that have risen dramatically since September. These are completely different teams who continue to traumatize residents in our area, and I urge residents to remain vigilant.”

Bouchard said those in the crime ring are believed to have entered the country in one of two ways: either illegally across the southern border or through the Visa Waiver Program.

“We’d love to trace them back to where they are trained. It’s hard to find out where they are living because they use different places to stay,” he explained. “This isn’t a typical investigation. That’s why we need so many partners — state, federal and local — to share information.”

This particular crime ring, he explained, targets multimillion-dollar homes in affluent neighborhoods, breaking in through glass doors or second-story windows when homes are vacant, typically between 5 and 9 p.m. Their preferred targets are large homes that are isolated and back up to wooded areas, trails and golf courses.

“A lot of people ask what neighborhoods or what communities, but it’s the target home. If you have a very high-end home — probably a multimillion-dollar home — with any kind of approach, and there are valuables inside, you are probably that kind of target that they are looking for, regardless of what community or neighborhood you’re in,” Bouchard said. “One of the burglaries was in a home where the rest of the neighborhood probably wouldn’t have fit the bill, but that one did — that’s something to be aware of.”

The thieves use jamming equipment to disrupt frequencies used by wireless security systems, preventing alarms from going off as they break into a home.

“They’re very methodical,” Bouchard explained. “They come in, they’re very well trained — they are all in black, with backpacks, face masks and gloves — and they utilize a jammer that shuts down wireless, so if you have a wireless alarm system, a wireless glass break, wireless contacts, it will jam those frequencies and it won’t communicate with the alarm or get an alarm system out. So if you are in  a neighborhood and your wireless seems to be going down and it never has happened before and you’re in one of these neighborhoods, it may be a good time to call your local police department.”

Losses from recent break-ins measure in the millions of dollars, officials say, as money, jewelry, luxury purses, other high-value items and safes have been stolen from affected properties.

“They keep getting in houses without an alarm on and getting out with hundreds of thousands or even millions — we’ve seen homes with $3 million to $4 million in cash and jewelry — that’s a big payday anywhere in the world,” Bouchard noted.

Bloomfield Township Police Public Information Officer Nick Soley said the township alone has experienced roughly eight to 10 home break-ins since September.

“I can say confidently that none of our homes have been occupied during these home invasions in Bloomfield Township. They are going after that high-end jewelry, cash and some of the high-end purses and designer-named stuff like that,” he said.

The Bloomfield Township Police Department has been communicating with residents and homeowner associations to keep them apprised of the criminal activity. Many township residents are scared, according to Solely.

“Our residents are nervous, and rightfully so. They should feel protected in their homes,” he said. “Things are kind of changing. I don’t typically tell homeowners they need to move things to a safety deposit box, but those are the kinds of tips we are giving. If you have high-end jewelry, it needs to be moved somewhere more secure, or maybe off site.”

Most of the homes burglarized in the township have video surveillance, which Soley said is a big help to investigators. Police have also stepped up patrols throughout the township.

“We are putting a lot of extra patrols out there, so even if you don’t see us in a marked patrol car, we are out there,” he said.

As home invasions connected to this crime ring continue throughout southwest Michigan, the investigation remains ongoing.

The Keego Harbor Police Department is aware of the increase in home invasions and theft occurring not just in Oakland County but in different areas of the country, with most occurring break ins at what many would call 'very wealthy' residences," Keego Chief John Fitzgerald said in an email. "It appears these break ins are being done by South American groups in a coordinated manner. Several have been apprehended in different areas of the country. The Keego Harbor Police Department is working with the Oakland County Task Force and will continue to be on high alert for any way we can contribute to apprehending the suspects and assisting the task force. We advise all to be on alert not just to your residence but to your neighbors. If you see strange vehicles lingering or dropping people off in your neighborhoods, please call the police. If you see people around your residence or your neighbors' residence, especially if you know they are not home, call the police. For any suspicious activity, let us know so we can investigate. In Keego Harbor dial 911 or (248) 975-9200 to reach our police dispatch. In other cities dial 9-1-1 for the quickest police response.

Bouchard encourages homeowners to invest in redundant alarm systems — with an emphasis on those that are hard-wired and can communicate via radio, cellular and internet — and keep an eye out for anything unusual.

“Watch out for each other. Look for suspicious cars or people,” he said. “People coming through backyards and neighborhoods like that is a phone call to your local police. … We’d rather check on 100 nothings than miss the one real deal. Calling us is not a bother.”