HOUSTON—A traveling gang of gold and jewel thieves from Houston that targeted Indian-Americans in several states has been broken up with the arrests of three people, police said.
The burglars flew out of Houston, rented cars, and bought new tools at hardware stores in every city they struck, authorities say, stealing an estimated $500,000 worth of valuables. They focused on stealing gold and jewelry, police say, because the merchandise is so easy to sell.
Portland area authorities noticed a pattern of more than 40 similar burglaries in their area beginning in April 2011. The common threads between the crimes—especially the fact that the victims tended to be Indian-American—led investigators to look for other such burglaries in other states. They have discovered reports of similar thefts in Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Georgia and Washington state
“If you were to Google ‘East Indian families homes robbed,’ it’s not just in the northwest,” said Shirali Patel, whose Vancouver, Washington, home was burglarized last summer.
Washington County sheriff’s detectives in Oregon said they analyzed “vast amounts of evidence and witness statements” to trace the crimes to Texas.
All of the suspects are from the Houston area, police say. Ana Maria Gutierrez, 25, was arrested in Oregon and charged with nine different crimes ranging from burglary to kidnapping. Rodney Portocarrero Riascos, 18, and Deenys Yossimar Ramos, are still in Houston awaiting extradition, investigators said.
A fourth suspect, Vanderley Ortiz, 30, is believed to be somewhere in Vancouver, British Columbia, authorities said.
Gutierrez’s ex-husband, Joseph Rowland, told KHOU 11 News he suspected something was wrong and worried about letting their daughter visit her mother.
“It was just she was going out of town a lot,” Rowland said. “I started getting advertisements for lawyers in the mailbox. Just my gut instinct, you’ve got to be careful.”
The thieves apparently targeted victims who they suspected would have gold and jewelry in the homes, often breaking into back doors when they thought residents were away. At least twice they found people in the homes they were burglarized and tied them up while stealing their valuables, police said.
“I’m still having a hard time sleeping,” Patel said. “I’m still having anxiety leaving my house and going out and doing the normal things I like to do.”
Gutierrez’s ex-husband said on Wednesday afternoon he still hadn’t figured out how to explain what happened.
“I still haven’t told her daughter yet—my daughter—because I get all choked up just thinking how the daughter’s going to feel,” Rowland said.
Detectives ask anyone—including crime victims who believe they may have been burglarized by this group—to contact the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state at 503-846-2500.