Home NEWS Local Scene Faces, Facts Emerge As Swatting, Organized Burglary Rings Cracked

Faces, Facts Emerge As Swatting, Organized Burglary Rings Cracked


We report them as they happen: a disembodied voice on the phone telling school officials gunmen are on the way to shoot students or plant explosives; a group of stealthy burglars in black who rush wealthy homeowners, disable their security systems and loot the home of items few people knew were there.

Our stories cover the response, the uproar, the fear as kids text worried parents about an impending shooting – or neighbors who catch a glimpse of a disciplined crew of burglars trundling a safe out of a home or dropping expensive handbags in their wake. And after the occurrences we are left to wonder as locals cluck and say: “Who would do such a thing?”

Now, thanks to some good police work and tips from people close to the perpetrators, a picture begins to emerge and we’re able to put faces and names to the question.

Swatting – International Panic Caused By 21-year-old Self-Proclaimed Cyber Terrorist
The 24/680 is no stranger to the panic-inducing cyber or phone call threat tactic known as “swatting.” Various local schools, businesses, and individuals have been targeted at one time or another, an anonymous caller hinting at or threatening violence in hope of provoking a police response as retribution or simply to sow panic and fear.

Who are these callers? They’re largely anonymous, hiding behind social media platforms or fabricated phone numbers, making it extremely difficult for law enforcement to catch them. But in one recent case, however, an admitted “Cyber Terrorist” confessed he’d become part of a “toxic online environment” before he was sentenced to three years in federal prison for swatting calls he’d made to the United States and Canada.

Ashton Garcia of Bremerton, Washington pleaded guilty to two counts of extortion, and two counts of threats and hoaxes regarding explosives in federal court earlier this year.

According to his plea agreement and records in the case, from early June 2022 through March 2023, Garcia used voice over internet technology and social media platforms to make false emergency calls to dispatch services while urging others watch his illegal activity via social media. In his plea agreement, Garcia admits he intended his calls to cause a large-scale deployment of special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams, bomb squads, and other police units to the targeted locations. He made these calls with malicious intent to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against certain individuals and organizations, and to obtain items of value through extortion.

Garcia admitted to making 20 different false emergency reports targeting victims in California, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington, and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Garcia gathered personal information about his victims, and then threatened some of his victims with harm, including placing swatting calls to send an armed police presence to their home. Garcia demanded money, virtual currency, credit card information, or sexually explicit photos from some of the people he threatened and laughed at a police dispatcher who told him he was making terroristic threats.

The reports tied up law enforcement resources that could have been used for actual emergencies, with police entering the residences of his victims with weapons drawn, at times detaining people at gunpoint.

The Burglary Tourists
On May 20 the Glendale Police Department arrested four men for suspicion of burglary in the Emerald Isle area of their city. One of the men, Martinez Vargas, 28, of Colombia, was among the group – his second arrest in three weeks involving transnational burglary operations, often called “Burglary Tourism.”

Officers found a video surveillance device with a battery pack charging system camouflaged with leaves in the car. Police believe the men had planted the camera in a neighborhood they were targeting, surveilling homes and watching residents come and go – striking when homes were empty. The crews also favor homes adjacent to open spaces, hiking trails and canyons that give them access.

Camouflaged camera used by burglary crew. Glendale PD

Officers also located a construction hard hat and a reflective vest – which investigators felt were work by the burglars to allay suspicion while they moved around neighborhoods. Several jewelry boxes were also found in the car.

The arrests come as police in the 24/680 deal with a series of high-profile thefts in which thieves, working in crews of three or more, looted homes of high value good after apparently defeating alarm systems, in some cases while the residents were home. The thieves have taken safes, jewelry, weapons and high-end handbags, an apparent favorite in the re-sale market.

On April 30, the Glendale Burglary Task Force and L.A. Impact Burglary Task Force responded to a residential burglary in progress, pursuing a car fleeing the scene. Police recovered a WiFi signal jammer used to disable home security systems after it was jettisoned by the suspects.

Police arrested a group of Colombian nationals believed to be part of a transnational criminal operation known as “Burglary Tourism,” where thieves from South America enter the U.S. under the guise of tourism and fan out across the U.S.,targeting affluent neighborhoods for burglaries.

Thieves from Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia have been involved in hundreds of break-ins throughout Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, police say, overstaying visas and wiring profits from their burglaries back home. LAPD Deputy Chief Alan Hamilton told the Los Angeles Times that nearly 100 burglaries alone were committed north of the 118 Freeway in L.A. last year by South American theft groups.

Police believe “tourist burglars,” particularly Chilean nationals, are taking advantage of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows tourists and business travelers to enter America for 90 days or less without having to obtain a visa or go through a thorough vetting process.

In a case dating back to August 2023, Burbank police officers arrested a 33-year-old Chilean national after a woman reported four men had broken into her home through a sliding door. One of the men, Felipe Leiva Solis, was found in a nearby yard.

Police linked Solis’ crew to at least 30 burglaries in West Los Angeles alone, with three more of Solis’ crew arrested in Beverly Hills on December 27, 2023. Inside their vehicle, police said they found $1 million worth of stolen designer purses, watches, clothing and jewelry — all believed to be from a single heist.


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