Special Agent Ivan Romo is part of a task force battling the growing problem of crime tourism — thieves travelling on tourist visas who aren’t interested in seeing the sights but are instead intent on breaking into homes.
“They know that Canada has lax laws so that’s the reason why they like Canada,” Romo said. “It’s just a free-for-all. That’s the reason it’s going to attract more.”
Police in Canada aren’t much more optimistic.
Police recovered about $2.7 million worth of stolen jewelry, watches, bags and designer clothing. Foley says the group had so much loot it had rented a commercial storage locker.
In September 2015, Toronto police arrested 12 Chilean nationals suspected of committing a series of break-ins over the course of four months. Three other suspects are believed to have fled home to Chile.
A Global News investigation has found that SATGs appear to be hitting cities across Canada.
One of the Ontario groups has been linked to break-ins thousands of kilometres away: some of the items recovered were traced to break-ins in British Columbia.
SATGs are active across the U.S. as well. Romo says there have been several arrests in California this week.
Three suspects who’d fled Ontario and returned to Chile turned up in Sydney, Australia.
The tip from Halton Regional Police led to eight arrests and the recovery of more than $1 million worth of stolen goods.
According to New South Wales Police Supt. Daniel Doherty, the group robbed about 80 homes and shoplifted from several high-end clothing stores. The tip from Canada allowed police to find and stop the group.
“If it wasn’t for that, I hate to say how many offences they would have committed,” Doherty told reporters at a press conference in Sydney on Dec. 28.
Experts say the gangs target residences when there’s no one home.
Usually, one person rings the bell with a prepared comment if someone should answer the door. In the Edmonton case, the would-be thief was wearing a construction vest as though he was going to inform the homeowner of work going on in the area.
If no one answers, accomplices go to other doors or windows to break in. They act quickly — on average, they’re in and out within five to 10 minutes.
In the 400 cases investigated by Halton Regional Police, the home was empty every time.
“We did not have one incident where there was a confrontation between a homeowner and one of the individuals,” Foley said.
Two Chileans caught breaking into homes in Saint-Eustache, Que., on March 9 pleaded guilty Wednesday. It was supposed to be a bail hearing, but the men pleaded guilty instead.
They were each sentenced to three months, less 21 days for time served.
“We had an agreement with the prosecution and we finalized the case,” said defence lawyer Marie-Helene Giroux.
“If I’m only getting a slap on the wrist then I get out and I’m going to be calling my friends in Chile to say: ‘Hey, it’s great out here. We’re only getting a slap on the wrist. Come on down!’” he explained.