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Suspected member of ‘South American theft group’ facing felony charges in Ventura

A booking photo of a man with a bruised and swollen face
Booking photo of Alexis Provoste Aranguiz.
(Ventura County Sheriff’s Office)
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A man is facing felony charges in connection with a burglary in Ventura County, and authorities say he may be a member of a “South American theft group” traveling to California from other countries to steal from luxury homes.

Alexis Provoste Aranguiz, 43, of Chile, was arrested Friday after a harrowing encounter with the owner of an Oak Park home, according to Ventura County Dist. Atty. Erik Nasarenko.

The incident unfolded around 6:30 p.m. when the owner returned home and spotted an SUV idling in front of his residence. The owner entered the house and encountered a burglar, whom he struck, Nasarenko said. That burglar fled outside and into the waiting vehicle.

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The homeowner then encountered a second burglar — later identified as Aranguiz — and detained him until Ventura County sheriff’s deputies arrived.

“There was a physical confrontation and the homeowner basically held down the suspect until the police showed up,” said Capt. Cameron Henderson of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

Aranguiz was charged with first-degree residential burglary and conspiracy, both felonies, along with a special allegation that the burglary was a violent crime because the homeowner was present, Nasarenko said.

He pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court. The burglar who fled and the driver of the vehicle remain at large.

Many of the candidates talked about an uptick in crime during Tuesday’s debate.

March 22, 2022

But authorities said Aranguiz may be among the latest in a string of burglars traveling to California to commit similar crimes. Last month, deputies arrested four Chilean men in connection with the burglary of a home in Camarillo.

A mother and son from Chile last month pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and identify theft after stealing a woman’s purse in Camarillo and using her credit cards to buy goods, according to the D.A.’s office.

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Henderson, of the Sheriff’s Office, described the trend as “organized crime.”

“It’s been pretty prevalent for a couple of years,” he said. “We’re seeing these types of theft groups come from out of the country and commit these types of burglaries, and then they’re flown out.”

Sgt. Greg Gibson of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said the county recorded more than 100 such crimes from “South American theft groups” in 2021.

The suspects in many cases follow a similar methodology, he said, including traveling to the area on 90-day tourist visas. Most crimes are nonviolent property crimes, including residential burglaries and stealing credit cards and other items from cars.

Thousands Oaks, Camarillo and Moorpark are among the most commonly targeted areas in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, he said.

A series of high-profile crimes in upscale parts of Los Angeles — “smash-and-grab” and “follow-home robberies” — have gotten widespread attention in recent months.

Dec. 30, 2021

Ventura County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Brandon Ross said the targeted homes often back up to golf courses or mountain areas from which the suspects can surveil and enter the properties.

The incidents predate the recent spate of smash-and-grab and follow-home robberies in Los Angeles and other big cities, but the trend has “become more prolific as more and more of these suspects either finish their sentences or continue to get away with it and profit heavily from it,” Ross said.

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Still, recent reports of soaring crime can belie some larger improvements. In Ventura County, crime statistics began returning to prepandemic levels in 2021 but remained at historic lows, according to data released last month by the Sheriff’s Office. Residential burglaries in the county decreased 10% last year, but violent crime increased 3% and property crime increased 5%, the data said.

“We ask our residents to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to local law enforcement,” Nasarenko said. “My office will continue to work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to charge and prosecute South American theft groups and crews that target residential communities.”

Aranguiz remains in custody in lieu of $150,000 bail, according to Sheriff’s Office records. A deposition is scheduled for April 14.

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