A new roadside sign in Moorpark flashes a warning to motorists not to leave valuables inside their cars. A neighbor posts on social media about yet another burglary in Santa Rosa Valley.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department installs a sign on a trailhead in Ojai that says hikers’ valuables “won’t be there when you come back” and issues a community alert for residents to install security systems in their homes.
What’s leading to this new concern over vehicular and home burglaries? The cause is now common enough that it has its own law enforcement abbreviation – SATG – and these burglars are coming to a neighborhood near you.
SATG stands for South American Theft Groups, which are small teams of highly skilled criminals who exploit immigration loopholes to travel from Chile, Columbia and other countries to prey on Americans, particularly in the sanctuary state of California. California has seen a flood of such crimes since the legislature prohibited local police and sheriff’s departments from enforcing federal immigration laws or assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers starting back in 2018.
Now, after posing as tourists to gain entry to the U.S., SATGs commit residential burglaries, commercial burglaries, home invasion robberies, business robberies and thefts from vehicles, preferring targets that back up to open spaces and golf courses.
One such open space is the equestrian community of Santa Rosa Valley, nestled at the intersection between Thousand Oaks, Moorpark and Camarillo. Just a few days before Thanksgiving, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department issued a “Santa Rosa Valley Residential Burglary Alert” that noted over the previous five days, two homes were broken into on Andalusia Drive, with a third incident taking place in October.
“This increase is directly related to an influx of transnational criminals commonly referred to by law enforcement as South American Theft Group members,” the November 23 alert stated, adding that SATG criminals commonly gain entry to homes by prying open or smashing windows or glass doors.
Earlier that month, the Thousand Oaks Special Enforcement Unit and the Moorpark Special Enforcement Detail interrupted a break-in in progress while doing a high visibility patrol in response to SATG burglaries. At 7:45 p.m. on November 9, they responded to a call of a theft in progress on Calle Del Sol in Thousand Oaks, in a neighborhood adjacent to the Sunset Hills Country Club. The suspects fled as deputies arrived but were soon captured.
In a press release announcing the arrests, the Sheriff’s department noted that the suspects possessed fraudulent government identification cards from foreign countries and were believed to have committed similar burglaries in Santa Rosa Valley, Moorpark, Hidden Hills and other communities.
“Detectives determined the adult suspects were Chilean Nationals who entered the United States through the Visa Waiver Program,” the press release stated.
The Visa Waiver Program permits citizens from dozens of countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa. Applicants must have a valid passport and an electronic passport and be citizens of one of the designated countries that are permitted to participate in the program. To be included, countries must meet certain criteria, including sharing security-related data with the U.S., having strong counterterrorism measures, and, ironically, maintaining high border control standards.
Chile became the first South American country to be admitted into the program in 2014. In October, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Columbia to discuss making it the second such country.
At that very time, a 10-week investigation was underway by detectives from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Moorpark Investigation Bureau stemming from an August 5 burglary attempt on Doris Court in Moorpark. The homeowner scared off the two Chilean suspects, later identified as Jose Enrique Soto Fuentes and Marvin Pissani Reyes. At the scene, police found evidence that pointed to a SATG-style burglary. They enlisted the expertise of the Thousand Oaks Special Enforcement Unit, which specializes in SATG-related crimes. On October 21, Ventura County detectives working in conjunction with the Orange County Sheriff’s South County Directed Enforcement Team located and arrested the men, along with two other Chileans, for breaking into cars parked at a hiking trail in Mission Viejo. Two search warrants were served in Tarzana and North Hollywood that yielded additional evidence.
The SATG burglaries this fall are not new. The Mission Viejo arrests came on the heels of an October 14 community alert in which the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department warned the public that since 2018 there have been an increased number of seasonal burglaries “directly related to an influx of transnational criminals commonly referred to by law enforcement as South American Theft Group members.” In 2019, the Simi Valley Police Department busted one such burglary ring that hit 20 homes.
This phenomenon began after 2017, when the California legislature passed Senate Bill 54, prohibiting local police and sheriff’s departments from enforcing federal immigration laws or assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, making California a so-called “sanctuary state.” The bill was sponsored by then-Senator Kevin De Leon, who is currently fighting for his political life after being caught participating in a racist discussion with fellow members of the Los Angeles City Council. De Leon’s bill, coupled with the Visa Waiver Program, created an ideal environment for foreign burglary rings to target Californians.
Because of broken state and federal immigration laws, Ventura County residents are advised to protect themselves against SATG burglaries by not leaving valuables inside cars, investing in home security systems and cameras, and leaving their lights on when not at home.