Four arrested in Glendale believed to be part of 'burglary tourism' ring

Glendale police arrested a group of Colombian nationals this week who are suspected of being part of a South American "burglary tourism" ring operating in Los Angeles County.

The four men were pulled over during a traffic stop Monday evening in the Emerald Isle neighborhood shortly after 10:30 p.m., the Glendale Police Department announced in a news release.

The men were driving out of a cul-de-sac with their car's headlights off when officers stopped them and searched their vehicle, police said. Officers found a video surveillance device with a portable battery charging pack camouflaged with leaves in a Whole Foods bag. They also found a planter on the street, which detectives believe was where the surveillance device was located.

By placing the device near a home and retrieving it later, the suspects could in theory learn the schedule of when a person leaves their home, according to police.

Also inside the suspects' car, officers found several jewelry boxes, along with a construction hard hat and a vest, which could be used to get near a home without drawing attention, police said.

The four men were identified as Bryan Martinez Vargas, 28; Jose Antonio Velasquez, 28; Edison Arley Pinzon Fandino, 27; and Luis Carlos Moreno, 29, according to police. The men were arrested and accused of conspiracy to commit burglary.

This was not the first time police had encountered Martinez Vargas.

Read more: 4 Chileans stole from homes across L.A. in a case of 'burglary tourism,' police say

On April 30, a police officers with a burglary task force responded to a residential burglary call in the Crescenta Highlands neighborhood. During the call, police were involved in a high-speed pursuit with the suspects, who eventually drove their car off the shoulder of a freeway exit, according to camera footage from a police vehicle involved in the pursuit.

During the pursuit, the suspects in the car tried to get rid of stolen items and a device used to interrupt the Wi-Fi signals used with home security systems, according to police.

Martinez Vargas and 45-year-old William Guanume were in the car and taken into custody. It's unclear what charges the men faced over that incident.

Police say that Martinez Vargas and others suspected in the Glendale heist are believed to be part of a "burglary tourism" ring.

Glendale Police Chief Manny Cid called the situation "frustrating" in a statement, considering that Martinez Vargas had been arrested just weeks after his previous arrest.

Glendale is not unique in being targeted by a group of foreign nationals believed to have entered the U.S. under the guise of tourists, but who instead are burgling high-end residential neighborhoods.

Increasingly over the last five years, police officials say, thieves from South American nations are taking advantage of the tourist visa system, which does not require a background check for travelers. Once in the country, police say, they plan heists and fence the loot before dispatching their earnings back home.

The groups mostly hit wealthy neighborhoods where homes have jewelry and high-value items that can be easily exchanged for cash, police said.

Los Angeles police arrested a 17-year-old fugitive and three others from Chile earlier this year while they were scoping out homes in Pacific Palisades.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.