NEW PORT RICHEY — Deputies say they have cracked the first case in a string of burglaries at Pasco County schools. On Monday they arrested 19-year-old Alexis Rafeal Ortiz, who is accused of breaking into Ridgewood High School with accomplices on Feb. 27 and stealing 37 iPods, 34 Apple laptops and one iPad.
The cost of that heist alone: $70,650.
It's one of 13 Pasco school burglaries since October.
The first burglary was at Chasco Elementary. Since then, Calusa Elementary, Chasco Middle and Ridgewood High have all been burglarized, some of them multiple times, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said. Detectives think the break-ins are connected: The burglars used similar methods each time, though authorities declined to elaborate on what those were.
In the Feb. 27 burglary, the report states, Ortiz and three others hopped a fence onto campus and smashed out first- and second-story windows to get inside classrooms.
After detectives received an anonymous tip, a deputy stopped Ortiz in traffic Monday and found him with seven computers and four iPods, all stolen, the report states. They searched his house, too, and found two more laptops, one that was identified as being from Ridgewood High.
He was arrested on a charge of burglary and taken to the Land O'Lakes jail, where he remained Tuesday afternoon in lieu of $30,000 bail. Detectives are still investigating to find more suspects and ties to the other burglaries.
Sheriff Chris Nocco called a press conference Tuesday to ask for the public's help in solving the other cases.
In all, the burglaries made for a loss of $172,875 for the Pasco school district, taxpayer spending that wasn't insured, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said. Teachers who used the technology have had to revamp their lesson plans to move forward without those teaching tools.
Tobin said burglary suspects usually sell the stolen loot for money. And anyone caught having bought one of the stolen laptops or iPods could also face charges, depending on how much they knew about the burglaries. Authorities are encouraging people to come forward with the goods now.
"It's better that you turn yourselves in rather than have us come knock on your door," Nocco said.
Tobin also urged parents to keep watch on their children's new gadgets.
"If they have a computer that you didn't pay for," Tobin said, "please contact the Sheriff's Office."