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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Sting Nets 3 Suspected Home-Invasion Jewel Thieves

November 25, 2000

ORANGE COUNTY — The three suspects planned the robbery meticulously, authorities said.

They would abduct a jeweler at gunpoint as he arrived at a Garden Grove home to celebrate Thanksgiving, steal his cash and diamonds and then ransack his relatives' home, officials said.

But when the suspects neared their intended target Wednesday evening, a team of law enforcement officers swooped down and quickly took them into custody, a police helicopter hovering overhead.

There was no jeweler; the house was vacant. The suspects had been duped, officials said, by an undercover operative who infiltrated the gang as part of a gang abatement team launched by Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

The novel sting comes as authorities are grappling with a new and increasingly pervasive type of home invasion in which sophisticated roving gangs prey not on a particular neighborhood, but on vulnerable victims wherever they can find them.

"The gangs are more selective on who they target these days. They really focus on people who are old, who are easily intimidated, who won't report them," said Larry Lambert, a supervising investigator for the district attorney's Regional Gang Enforcement Team. "It's happening more and more. They're a little harder to catch, so we have to use creative, more sophisticated means."

Orange County has recorded more than a dozen such robberies this year, including five in Santa Ana. Officials said the sting gave them a rare glimpse into the inner operations of an alleged home-invasion robbery gang. The suspects had been told that the jeweler had just arrived in town and would be pulling up at the house in a Cadillac Eldorado.

"These individuals were extremely surprised when they were met with this number of heavily armed officers," Santa Ana Police Sgt. Raul Luna said.

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