South American ‘crime tourist’ gangs suspected in several Utah burglaries

News & Politics

Gangs of foreign nationals apparently continue to ravage the country, as some are now suspected in a string of burglaries in the greater Salt Lake City area.

In the past several months, local and federal law enforcement have warned Americans about gangs of foreign nationals allegedly engaging in “burglary tourism” in suburban Detroit, Scottsdale, and Los Angeles. These gangs either target residences while homeowners are away or approach unsuspecting victims to steal belongings off their persons.

‘Don’t be paranoid or afraid, but just be smart, keep items of value close.’

This second group of thieves follows the same basic modus operandi. Thieves work in pairs or groups of three. One member targets a victim and distracts him or her by asking for help, while an accomplice then quickly snatches the victim’s wallet. The thieves then use the victim’s cash or credit cards to purchase electronics or other expensive items that can be sold for a profit, all before the victim even realizes anything has been stolen.

“The victim believes the wallet is in the purse until they get to a point of sale or return home,” said Lt. Brian Cooper of the Farmington Police Department in Farmington, Utah.

“These suspects are often parts of criminal organizations and will travel doing this. Sometimes they’ve been referred to as ‘crime tourists,'” Cooper added.

Though many American cities have been overrun by migrants in the country illegally, most of these gang members are actually in the U.S. legally, exploiting a security loophole in the federal visa waiver program. They then travel about the country in rental vehicles, reportedly using fake IDs.

While some of these gangs come from China, most originate from Chile or other South American countries. “The common links are they’re organized crime groups, they’re here temporarily, and in our [recent] experience, they have been foreign nationals, but most closely associated with South American theft groups,” Cooper explained.

For now, these gangs have brazenly taken advantage of people’s kindness and good nature, but few have engaged in acts of physical violence, Cooper claimed.

“We haven’t seen many violent encounters or that they’re armed,” he said. “In one of our recent cases, the victim realized the theft was occurring [and] confronted the suspect; [the suspect] dropped the wallet and ran.”

Cooper and other members of Farmington PD believe “South American theft groups” are responsible for at least four robberies that occurred in Farmington within the past month. So far, police have managed to arrest several suspects, including America Daniela Gonzalez Tobar, a 42-year-old Chilean national listed on an FBI watch list because of her “ties to transnational criminal organizations, specifically the Chilean Theft Group.”

Cooper advised concerned Americans to have reasonable skepticism about pleas for help from strangers and to guard their belongings carefully. “Keep your property secure, don’t be cavalier when shopping. Don’t be paranoid or afraid, but just be smart, keep items of value close,” he said.

Unfortunately, valuables may not always be safe at home, either, as some criminal gangs have likewise been known to target residences when homeowners are out of town. To protect themselves against home invasion, Chris Bavender, an FBI public affairs specialist in Indianapolis, suggested that people “vary” their “daily routine,” “take photos of valuables and keep those items in a safe,” and refrain from leaving “large amounts of cash” in their homes.

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