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New Rash of Follow-Home Heists Probed

Times Staff Writer

A new rash of “follow-home” robberies is under way in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles police reported Friday.

The crime pattern is similar to a string of robberies broken by police just four months ago with the arrests of 14 members of a ring believed involved in dozens of follow-home robberies in affluent areas of Encino, Sherman Oaks and Beverly Hills. In those, armed thieves followed home and robbed motorists driving expensive cars or wearing valuable jewelry.

Police believe that as many as three separate groups of thieves are now at work in the Ventura Boulevard corridor, where 21 robberies have occurred in the last 12 weeks that fit the follow-home pattern.

Detectives are investigating whether several other robberies citywide that also fit the pattern are linked to the Valley crimes.

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On the Lookout

Investigators believe that the robbers choose their targets from among people driving expensive cars or wearing expensive jewelry or Rolex watches in the commercial areas along Ventura Boulevard. Police had no estimate on the value of cash, jewelry and cars taken in the latest string of robberies.

Police refused to release specifics about the robberies, such as times and locations, saying it would hinder their investigation. However, the department released a statement warning motorists of the robbers.

“We feel the obligation to warn the general public about this,” Lt. William Gaida said.

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The statement said in part, “If you drive a luxury vehicle, wear a Rolex watch or wear what appears to be expensive jewelry, you should take a few precautions. Pay particular attention to your surroundings at all times and be especially cautious when entering your vehicle at retail business parking lots, underground parking structures or other public parking facilities.

“While driving, remain alert to the possibility of being followed.”

Elderly Victimized

Several victims of the recent spate of robberies were elderly women, some of whom were beaten by the thieves in an apparent attempt to disorient them, police said.

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“These guys are getting brutal,” said Police Cmdr. Chet Spencer, who noted that in one robbery this month the suspects threatened to cut off an 81-year-old woman’s finger if she did not turn over a $10,000 diamond ring.

In early March, police arrested 14 young men from neighborhoods near Exposition Park in Central Los Angeles and announced that they had smashed a ring responsible for as many as 50 follow-home robberies in which $300,000 in cash and property was taken at gunpoint.

In those robberies, which were occurring as often as three times a week, the suspects cruised affluent neighborhoods in stolen cars and followed expensive cars, usually new Mercedes-Benzes, until the drivers arrived home, where the robbery would take place. Two victims were wounded by gunshots during the robberies.

Some of those arrested have been released without charges and others are out on bail awaiting trial, but police would not say whether any of them are believed to be involved in the latest crimes.

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