TAMPA — After burglars hit her house for $30,000 worth of goods last year, a Pasco County woman thought back to a suspicious character with a glass shower company that had done work on the home.
“She said, ‘There was something about him, I just didn’t feel right,’" Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said.
The woman did some research, found photos of people who did work on her glass shower and gave the images to a Pasco sheriff’s detective.
The tip helped unravel a burglary ring responsible for at least 24 burglaries in unincorporated Hillsborough and Pasco counties and the city of Tampa. The six suspects charged in the case made away with more than $1 million in cash, jewelry and other valuables that included a piece of Salvador Dalí artwork and Beatles memorabilia, officials said Tuesday.
One of the suspects owns a Tampa day care center, authorities said. Another is her husband.
“These suspects were basically shopping for luxury items inside our homes,” Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference in Ybor City.
The investigation called Operation Trifecta began when Hillsborough detectives noticed similarities in burglaries in Odessa, Keystone and Lutz. The suspects used a white utility van and wore reflective vests to disguise themselves as construction workers. The suspects typically broke into homes through back doors and windows during the day, when homeowners were at work.
During one of the burglaries, the homeowner hid in fear while calling 911. The homeowner was not harmed and the burglars fled when they realized someone was home.
The Hillsborough detectives shared details with their counterparts at the Pasco sheriff’s office and the Tampa Police Department.
The thieves are suspected of casing some of the houses ahead of time and hitting other homes that appeared as though they would contain valuables, officials said.
One of the Pasco victims lost some $900,000 in goods including a Dali piece, original hand-written lyrics by Jimi Hendrix for his song “Stepping Stone” and a piece of artwork by John Lennon. In the case of the woman who gave the tip about the glass shower company, the burglars knew to target a safe in the home. Her tip helped identify suspects who were then placed under surveillance.
Investigators learned that the suspects would meet at the Smart Steps Academy on Wilsky Boulevard in Tampa before and after the burglaries. The day care center is owned by Yarisley Curevo Reyes, 27, who was among the six arrested in the operation along with her husband, 31-year-old Yuniel Hinojosa Gallardo.
Also arrested were Ernesto Hinojosa, 45; Arleys Bonet Mustelier, 39; Yasmani Hernandez Rodriguez, 32; and Alain Rodrigues Roig, 28.
All six were charged with racketeering along with grand theft and burglary charges. The investigation continued Tuesday and more charges are expected.
The ring is suspected in 15 burglaries in South Tampa between May and October, Tampa police’s Deputy Chief of Operations Lee Bercaw said. They targeted high-end jewelry and got away with about $500,000 worth of property. The suspects are blamed for seven burglaries in unincorporated Hillsborough.
Detectives got a search warrant for at least one of the suspect’s homes. It was like serving a search warrant at a jewelry store, Chronister said.
“These people just had jewelry everywhere,” Nocco said. “They had rings within planters. (Detectives) would open up draws where you’d think knives and fork would be and there was just jewelry laying in there.”
A large portion of the stolen goods have been returned.
“Our detectives live for cases like this to help the victims,” Bercaw said.
Nocco encouraged the public to ask to take photos of people who work in their homes.
“You don’t know if they’ll come back with ill intentions,” he said.