Chilean gangs in US on Visa Waiver Program targeting high-end Michigan homes — again, sheriff says

Wealthy residents living in spacious homes in southeastern Michigan once again need to be on the lookout for “super well-trained” and “highly organized” burglary gangs from Chile, a local sheriff says.

According to Sheriff Michael Bouchard, Oakland County, Michigan, which borders northwestern Detroit, has recently experienced a rash of break-ins that are eerily similar to a string of break-ins in the area last fall. “The M.O. is super, super, super, super similar,” he claimed.

The suspected thieves travel in packs and specifically target “very large, upscale homes” on properties that are often hidden from the watchful eyes of friends and neighbors, security footage indicates. They then scour social media to learn which homeowners are likely to be out of town. “A lot of people post a selfie [that says,] ‘On my way to Florida for two weeks,'” Bouchard said.

Once the thieves believe the coast is clear, they unleash a sophisticated operation involving backpacks, ski masks, and even jammed alarm systems. “They look like ninjas,” Bouchard said. “They’re all masked up, gloves … [and have a] particular set of tools for their job.”

Because of their well-coordinated efforts, the thieves have managed to abscond with cash and luxury items such as jewelry and purses. In one case, the suspects walked away with more than $800,000 in cash and valuables.

For Bouchard and his deputies, this pattern looks all too familiar. Just a few months ago, three suspects — all from Chile — were apprehended in Indiana, accused of committing similar heists in southeastern Michigan. Around the same time, Bouchard’s office arrested seven other Chilean nationals on suspected robbery.

Bouchard claimed that at least 100 teams consisting of four to six Chileans have been roaming about the United States, perpetrating this same form of home invasion and walking away with millions. He said that the gang members were likely admitted into the country via the Visa Waiver Program, which “enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa,” a State Department website said. The website lists Chile among the “participating countries.”

“What we encourage Washington to do is stop the Visa Waiver Program right now for Chile,” Bouchard said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t visit, but they just have to get a regular visa, which comes with a little more scrutiny.”

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