BMW Driving Burglars

Makes perfect sense in the Silicon Valley. A Dodge would look suspicious

Top: Ruben Ibarra-Nava, Emerson Chaves, Daniel Flores-CastenedaMiddle: Jaime Magana, Francisco Ledesma Aquilar, Gilberto CruzBottom: Raul Cruz Jr., Miguel

Top: Ruben Ibarra-Nava, Emerson Chaves, Daniel Flores-Casteneda
Middle: Jaime Magana, Francisco Ledesma Aquilar, Gilberto Cruz
Bottom: Raul Cruz Jr., Miguel Chipres-Magallon, Gustavo Ayala Garcia Jr.

By: Robert Salonga/San Jose Mercury News

Authorities say they have arrested more than half a dozen members of a gang-based burglary crew investigators linked to more than 200 cases centered in San Jose and spanning a number of Bay Area cities.

The gang crew, reportedly based out of East Palo Alto, was the subject of “Operation Cruz Control,” a yearlong investigation spearheaded by the San Jose Police Department and came to involve 10 other area police agencies. Police are crediting the crackdown on the burglary crew with a 50 percent drop in property crimes in the city’s Evergreen area.

“When you have an active burglary crew committing four or five burglaries a day, to get them off the street makes a major impact,” said Lt. Paul Messier, commander of the SJPD financial-crimes unit.

Wednesday, a multiagency law-enforcement team involving dozens of officers served search warrants at seven locations in East Palo Alto and one in Newark and arrested seven men, and are still looking to arrest two more, according to San Jose police. At least four others are being sought in connection with the operation but arrest warrants have not been issued for them.

The crew is tied to more than 200 burglaries dating back to 2015, primarily in San Jose but also in Milpitas, Redwood City, East Palo Alto, Daly City, Newark and other unspecified locations on the Peninsula.

According to San Jose police, the suspects drove vehicles such as Porsches, BMW’s and Mercedes-Benzes, and stole firearms, cash, jewelry and electronics during the alleged crimes, which occurred mostly in Evergreen.

“We noticed an uptick in burglaries, and we saw a pattern of high-end cars being used in a lot of them,” Messier said.

Residents’ home-security cameras were crucial in helping detectives identify the vehicles and by extension the suspects.

“There’s quite a bit of surveillance video now. (Cameras) are cheaper, more readily available, and the quality is better and better, so we were able to make a lot of these cases,” Messier said.

When the search warrants were served, authorities seized a “large amount” of cash, stolen property, burglary tools, ski masks, and at least one firearm.

Five of the seven suspects in custody, men between the ages of 19 and 25, were booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail on suspicion of multiple burglary counts along with recommended gang enhancements. All are East Palo Alto residents: Ruben Ibarra-Nava, 22; Emerson Chavez, 19; Francisco “Frankie” Ledesma Aquilar, 25; Gilberto Cruz, 19; and Raul Cruz Jr., 20.

The “Cruz Control” moniker for the police operation was derived by the Cruz family thought to be the masterminds behind the burglary racket, Messier said.

Two of the suspects, both from East Palo Alto, were already in jail when they were linked to the burglaries: Daniel Flores-Castaneda, 24, was already in Santa Clara County jail, and Jaime Magana, 25, was in San Mateo County jail.

Police are still seeking two more suspects: 22-year-old East Palo Alto resident Miguel Chipres-Magallon and 23-year-old Newark resident Gustavo Ayala Garcia Jr.

Messier said while there is still more work to do, Wednesday’s bust was a boon for the department’s bare-bones burglary unit, which currently consists of Sgt. Mike Montonye and Detective Ashley Weger.

“We have one burglary detective for a population of over a million people, but Detective Weger and Sgt. Montonye are both very tenacious investigators,” Messier said. “They were instrumental in putting this case together.”

In all, 150 officers from 11 area police agencies participated in the raids: Police from San Jose, Milpitas, East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Daly City, Union City, and Newark; the Santa Clara County and San Mateo County sheriff’s offices; the San Mateo North County Regional SWAT Team; and the U.S. Postal Inspector.