ORLANDO — Two men with felony records found a novel way of ripping off vacation homes, the Osceola County Sheriff's Office said: They started a legitimate water-purifying business and used their status to enter gated communities in Four Corners and haul away tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise.
Investigators said the men used cash they stole and money they received for selling pilfered items to buy equipment for their business. Then they used the trucks to cart away booty such as laptop computers, plasma TVs, cameras, jewelry, designer handbags and sunglasses, and computer games.
"It was a very elaborate operation, very sophisticated," said Twis Lizasuain, a spokeswoman for the Osceola Sheriff's Office.
Patrick McAvoy, 38, and David Castle, 33, both of Kissimmee, were arrested last week after undercover deputies saw them use a crowbar to pry open the back door of a house in Davenport and steal a British tourist's belongings, the arrest report states. The deputies, who had been investigating for eight months, also saw them try to pry open doors at another Davenport home, according to the report.
McAvoy and Castle were jailed in Polk County on charges of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, possession of burglary tools and theft.
Thousands of dollars in goods — including riding lawn mowers and all-terrain vehicles investigators think were bought with proceeds from the burglaries — were found at their homes, Lizasuain said. One of the men had $7,000 in his pocket when he was caught, she said.
Castle told investigators the pair used binoculars to see whether alarm-system control panels were activated. If not, they used a crowbar to break in, he said.
The two are suspected in 250 burglaries in Osceola County, at least 50 in Polk and a dozen in Lake County, with the haul worth up to several hundred thousand dollars, authorities said.
The pair's company, P.S. Pure Water Systems and Repairs, was not established until a year after authorities say their crime spree began and had on-the-level clients, but it is thought to have been used mainly as a front for the thefts, the Osceola Sheriff's Office said.
Deputies are working with property-management companies to train employees to screen visitors carefully and be on the lookout for suspicious activities, she said.