A trio suspected of impersonating utility workers to burglarize mostly elderly women has been arrested, closing a case that has nagged the Huntington Park Police Department for three years.
The district attorney's office recently charged Bell Gardens residents Billy Demetro, 47, his son Joseph Demetro, 20, and Billy Demetro's stepson, Perry Tan, 19, with felony residential burglary stemming from nine cases.
Each was being held on $500,000 bail. They have pleaded not guilty. A preliminary hearing was to have been held Thursday but was postponed to April 25.
Huntington Park Police Detective Tom Tellez said the suspects' method of operation matches at least six other burglary reports. Police believe another 20 cases in the span of three years can be traced to the trio, whose victims range in age from 73 to their 90s.
"They would drive around all day, and if they saw an elderly person through a window or sitting on a porch, they would stop," Tellez said.
Tellez said the alleged burglars initially began asking people if they needed minor repairs done on their homes and would charge them $20 to $100 for a job. But when they were repeatedly turned down for jobs, they allegedly turned to a scam, posing as utility workers to get into homes.
One man would persuade victims that he needed to check the power, gas or water meter. Once inside, he would occupy the person, usually by checking out plumbing in the bathroom, while his partner would ransack the bedroom and then leave with the goods, Tellez said.
Because most of the victims had poor memories or eyesight, detectives had been unable to compile enough information to crack the case, Tellez said. But they did have a description of the suspects' vehicle. On March 9, it was spotted by Huntington Park police and followed for six hours through Downey, Bellflower, Artesia, Lakewood and North Long Beach, Tellez said. Detectives followed the car back to the suspects' Bell Gardens apartment and eventually arrested the men separately.
Huntington Park police officers have recovered more than 700 stolen rare coins, more than 500 pieces of jewelry, a pried-open wall safe and a stack of pawn-shop tickets. Although police did not tally a total dollar amount, Tellez cited one case in which a woman lost $62,000 in cash and valuables.
Police advise people to verify utility workers' photo identification by phoning the company they claim to represent.