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Cat burglar rats out his techniques for police

August 13, 2008|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Serial burglar Ignacio Pena Del Rio gave up his tools of the trade, and on Tuesday had six months shaved off his prison sentence.

Pena Del Rio, known as one of Los Angeles' most industrious and prolific cat burglars until his arrest in 2006, agreed to authorities' unusual request. He starred in a 70-minute video in which he disclosed all his techniques for a Los Angeles Police Department training video.

Pena Del Rio, who came to the United States with hopes of becoming a professional mixed martial arts fighter and earned a business degree from the University of San Diego, was convicted of stealing more than $16 million in loot.

The Spanish national was sentenced Tuesday to 7 1/2 years behind bars for the two-year crime spree that targeted scores of victims in Burbank, Glendale, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Simi Valley.

Pena Del Rio was originally arrested in connection with a string of burglaries that netted fine art, jewelry and other items, including a $10-million Edgar Degas painting.

Later, Pena Del Rio offered to help detectives find more of his stolen goods. He drew up a "treasure map" purportedly showing where he buried expensive jewelry, including gold necklaces and a canary diamond ring estimated to be worth up to $400,000. Detectives were skeptical of the map but eventually found the booty buried in plastic piping on a vacant lot near the White Oak Avenue exit of the 118 Freeway.

In the unedited, documentary-style interview, Pena Del Rio covered subjects such as how he chose his victims and how he talked his way out of a jam, according the lead investigator on the case, veteran LAPD Det. Bill Longacre.

"We let him ramble," Longacre said. "And he gave up a lot of good information."

There are the standard victims of residential property crimes, people who advertise their absence by keeping their porch lights on or letting the newspapers pile up, Longacre said.

But Pena Del Rio gave police a more comprehensive look at a burglar's thinking, insights that Longacre hopes might reduce losses or lead to quicker arrests.

Older victims in well-kept homes were an easy mark, not so much because they were vulnerable, Longacre said, but because he reasoned they accumulated more expensive things.

Pena Del Rio sought out those who were angry and distrustful of institutions like banks, essentially the mattress-money set who he rightly bet would keep cash, precious metals or other lucrative goods within easy striking distance.

Even though he had access to more sophisticated tools like hydraulic pry bars, rappelling ropes and blowtorches, he used gloves and a screwdriver in about 90% of his crimes.

Pena Del Rio tried to blend in to the normal activities of a neighborhood, scouting his targets while going on walks in an expensive jogging suit. He also rehearsed his exit strategy, adhering to the rule to never panic or run when confronted.

When things went wrong, he would claim to be a utility company employee whose job was to look out for trees growing over power lines or say that he had been in a car accident days earlier and was looking for witnesses.

--

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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