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String of recent burglaries in Orange County tied to international crime ring

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- More than 140 defendants have been charged with various types of burglaries and robberies in Orange County over the past year and some recent cases are now being tied to an international crime ring.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and law enforcement officials held a press conference on the announcement in Santa Ana Wednesday.

Seven of the defendants have been charged with hate crimes enhancements for specifically targeting Asian homeowners, Spitzer said.

"We have burglary crews who are specifically targeting Asians, following Asians home, targeting their homes, because they believe they keep large amounts of cash, have property, have safes and the like," said Spitzer.

The latest case filed involves 12 people charged in 13 home invasion robberies and burglaries in Brea, Irvine, Yorba Linda, and Orange.

That crew, which has ties to Riverside and Los Angeles counties, according to the DA's office, is suspected of being involved in numerous other crimes across Southern California.

The DA's office said multiple defendants were taken into custody last week, including one suspect who livestreamed a portion of his arrest on Facebook, officials said.

Spitzer blamed a slew of policies on local, state and federal levels for the crimes, including a VISA waiver program known as Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The program allows people from a list of countries to stay in the U.S. for 90 days. The application is not supposed to apply to those who have been convicted of a violent crime.

Twenty-one of the 141 defendants are from Chile, including three who were arrested and charged just last week.

"Defendants from Chile have posed a uniquely frustrating challenge because the Chilean government has refused to provide us with the criminal history of Chilean citizens utilizing the ESTA VISA Program to enter the United States," read a press release from the DA's office. "Without criminal histories, prosecutors have been largely handcuffed in trying to prove why these defendants pose a greater public safety risk beyond a single burglary charge."

Spitzer is pushing for Chile to be taken off of the list of eligible countries.

"Why is that problematic? Your honor, this person has been charged with these burglaries. Well what, Mr. Spitzer, is the criminal background of that particular person? Sorry your honor, they're a Chilean national, we do not know what their criminal history is," he said.

Meanwhile, a victim of burglary - who wished to be identified only as "M" for fear of retaliation - spoke out Wednesday and recalled her experience.

Burglars got into her home by shattering a glass door while she was at a doctor's appointment.

"I was gone for maybe about three hours and I received a phone call as I was driving up the street from our security company, letting us know that our alarm had gone off," she said. "My dog was in the home in her crate so that's immediately where my mind went to ... 'Was my dog okay?'" she said.

Her dog wasn't injured, but burglars did take valuable jewelry, bags and other items. She's working with insurance now to account for everything lost.

The monetary value is only part of the battle.

"We've lived in our home for at least 16 years, we've never had an incident like this," said "M." "We felt very safe in our home. For the most part, we felt safe in our neighborhood."

Now? She said not so much.


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