NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Brazen burglars targeted homes in the Farmington Valley and beyond, but these fast-moving culprits aren’t from Connecticut. They’re coming from South America.

“These are professionals, and they’re going to keep coming back,” Avon Police Chief Paul Melanson said.

Melanson said members of this South American Theft Group struck several homes in town earlier this year.

“They’re entering through sliding glass doors or second-floor windows,” Melanson said. “They steal jewelry, maybe expensive handbags, and they get high-priced items.”

Melanson told News 8 these groups have come to the area before, but it’s not the same three or four people. They follow a similar pattern, narrowing in on homes in affluent communities where it looks like no one is home.

“They came this way, apparently, up onto the deck, smashed the glass, into the house, up to the master bedroom,” Finola Stenson of Avon said.

She and her husband, Paul Stenson, fell victim.

“I had a big collection of Louis Vuitton handbags; they were stolen,” Stenson said. “A lot of jewelry. A lot of sentimental jewelry I had from Ireland from my parents. It’s all gone.”

What’s also gone? Their sense of safety and security inside their Avon home.

“It’s not just a robbery,” Stenson said. “It’s a violation of our house and the way we lived here so happy with our family. It’s changed dramatically.”

To catch these elusive criminals, police departments across the state and the country work together and share information to track these burglars down.

“It’s very hard,” Lt. Matt Corcoran of the Farmington Police Department said. “They might have fake documents. They might never be in our criminal justice system.”

Corcoran said they have a current case that’s linked to Avon. Another one dates back to October 2021. Members of this group allegedly burglarized a home on Pequabuck Lane, and about $250,000 in cash, a small amount of jewelry, and coins were stolen from a bedroom safe.

“They were able to identify the four suspects,” Corcoran said. “They were able to get an arrest warrant for them all. One actually turned up in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

While valuables are good, cash is what they prefer. Law enforcement sources told News 8 that if they do their homework, these thieves might seek out people with a cast cash business.

“It’s a lucrative business,” Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly said. “They’re not going to stop.”

In New York, Donnelly has led the charge on these investigations for the tri-state area.

“If they’re not held at arraignments, we’re probably not going to see them again,” Donnelly explained.

She’s seen firsthand how their tactics have evolved.

“The new trend that we’re seeing is they walk up with a package or a box or something that might look like a food delivery,” Donnelly said. “They ring the doorbell. If no one’s home, they leave, but now they know to come back quickly to the area and burglarize that home.” 

At the Nassau County Police Department, they have a burglary pattern team that has successfully stopped some of these crews. But just as arrests are made, additional crews crop up.

“I have never seen anything in my career of 35 years in a prosecutor’s office the uptick we have now,” Donnelly said.

To find out how you can better protect your home, we hopped into a cruiser and rode around with Avon Police Officer Mark Vess.

“They’re looking for no cars in the driveway,” Vess said. “They’re looking for nobody outside… no one was visible. No lights on inside or outside the residence. Maybe excess mail in the mailbox.” 

As we inch closer to the warmer months, when summer vacations are taking place, he shared tips everyone should keep in mind.

“Let your local police department know you won’t be there for ‘x’ number of days,” Vess said. “Let them know if someone will be at the house. Who they are, what they’ll be driving. Leave a light or two in the house, maybe a car in the driveway.”

Police urge everyone to take critical steps to protect themselves and their homes, including:

  • Being vigilant
  • Using automatic lights 
  • Letting neighbors know when you’re out of town
  • Not allowing mail to pile up 
  • Being careful on social media 

These simple steps can help ensure this doesn’t happen to you.