AVON, Conn. (WTNH) — An international crime ring targets affluent communities in the Farmington Valley, but the culprits aren’t from Connecticut.
News 8 has learned from police that these thieves have come to the state before, and they’ll be back. Their patterns are the same. They strike when you’re not home and take your most prized possessions in minutes.
Finola Stenson thought the wind shattered the glass on her back door, but when she went upstairs to her bedroom, she quickly learned thieves were to blame.
“They came down this way, apparently, around, up onto the deck, smashed the glass with a hammer, into the house, up to the master bedroom,” Stenson said.
She said the thieves shoved valuables into pillowcases and a suitcase and were out in 10 minutes.
“I had a big collection of Louis Vuitton handbags,” Stenson said. “They were stolen. A lot of jewelry. A lot of sentimental jewelry I had from Ireland from my parents. That’s all gone.”
What’s also gone is their sense of safety and security inside their Avon home.
“It’s not just a robbery,” she said. “It’s a violation of our house and the way we lived here for 12 years, so happy with our family. It’s changed dramatically.”
The burglary is part of a string of burglaries in Avon between Jan. 30 and Feb. 15 this year.
Avon Police Chief Paul Melanson believes the South American Theft Group committed these crimes.
“We’re going to have more victims because we know these are professionals, and they’re going to keep coming back,” Melanson told News 8.
He said the group had terrorized Connecticut in the past their M.O. remains the same. They choose the path of least resistance, narrowing in on homes where it appears no one is there.
“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.”
The police chief said they travel in a group and are often unarmed and not deterred by home security systems.
“They don’t stay in an area long enough to be caught in the act,” Melanson said. “They hit an area, and they move on.”
Farmington was also hit.
“We do have a current case right now that appears to be linked to the Avon one,” Farmington Police Lt. Matt Corcoran said. “It happened about two months ago.”
But Farmington police also have a case stemming from October 2021. Members of the South American Theft Group allegedly burglarized a home on Pequabuck Lane. A safe that had about $250,000 in cash, a small amount of jewelry and coins were stolen from the master bedroom, according to police.
“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.”
Jorge Matias Vasquez-Miranda was arrested and extradited to Connecticut. A second suspect was deported back to Chile by Homeland Security. The other two suspects remain on the loose.
“The people have no connection to the area,” Corcoran said. “They’ll come into an area that they don’t know, they’ll commit a crime, and then they’ll leave. So, it’s very hard. They might have fake documents. They might never be in our criminal justice system. It’s not individuals doing this. It’s more of a criminal trend.”
That’s why information sharing is so critical.
“Our detectives worked with a lot of other agencies, specifically NYPD, Homeland Security, sheriff’s offices,” Corcoran said.
People who fell victim to these crimes say neighbors also need to share information. Stenson and her husband, Paul, wish that was the case.
“Everybody is on the internet and connected. There are all these chat groups,’ Paul Stenson said. “Put these messages out there: ‘There are bad guys or bad groups in the neighborhoods.’ Then people will watch and pay attention. We weren’t paying attention.”
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
The video below aired in our 6 p.m. newscast on April 12, 2023.