Their tool: A special pry bar to bust sliding-glass doors.
Their take: At least $100,000 in jewelry and electronics.
Their targets: Well-off homeowners in Parkland and Weston.
Their ‘tude: Brazen.
The arrest earlier this week of a Hollywood man offered a limited glimpse into an alleged ring of organized burglars who broke into at least 10 affluent homes, some in gated communities. The case involved stakeouts, a chase, cell phone surveillance, rental cars and a suspect’s body in a canal.
“It’s extremely violating when you can’t even get through your master bedroom because every drawer has been turned upside down … your undergarments are thrown all over the place … your bed is turned upside down,” said Parkland victim John Abbuhl, whose master bedroom was ransacked on Feb. 26.
One man is in custody. Jeannot Pierre, 24, of Hollywood, was arrested Tuesday and charged with seven counts of burglary and two counts of armed burglary. Two accomplices are being sought.
Another suspect, Dauntrae Sturrup, 24, also of Hollywood and Pierre’s cousin, apparently drowned in a Weston canal while trying to escape deputies answering a burglary call.
The break-ins, committed in late February and early March, shared several features: time of day, method of entry and targeted items, jewelry and small electronics in master bedrooms. Even dogs did not daunt the thieves who, one judge said, stole more than $70,000 from one home and at least $10,000 from another.
“It’s one of those things that you just don’t think is ever going to happen in an area like Heron Bay,” said Abbuhl. “You spend all that money to be in a gated community, but it makes you wonder if it makes a difference.”
Pierre became a suspect on March 3, when, according to Broward Sheriff’s Office investigator Brian Goolsby, he was spotted leaving the scene of a Parkland burglary in a rented Nissan Maxima.
In a later burglary, a resident saw him and another man entering his house through a smashed window and gave fruitless chase. The fleeing car was a Maxima.
The next day, according to Goolsby, Pierre traded the Maxima for a rented Ford Taurus. That was the car Goolsby saw during a stakeout. He followed it to the Weston Hills Country Club subdivision, where he said Pierre and three others committed another burglary.
Pierre was arrested at the scene. The others escaped, including Sturrup, whose body was found a week later in a nearby canal.
On the night of his arrest, Pierre admitted he was the lookout and getaway driver, but denied being part of an organized ring. Later he tried to pin the crime on his dead cousin.
“He acknowledged that his cousin Sturrup and his associates had committed burglaries, but that he was not involved,” Goolsby reported. “He stated that he loaned his vehicle to them knowing they were committing the burglaries.”
Broward County Judge John “Jay” Hurley, who ordered Pierre held without bond at a first appearance hearing on Wednesday, said a review of Pierre’s cellphone history helped investigators link him to the string of burglaries.
“You and a group of other young men were making telephone calls in the city of Parkland at or near the time of the burglaries,” the judge said. “You and the other young men involved were breaking into houses, taking from one house more than $70,000, breaking into windows, the sliding-glass door, another house with more than $10,000.”
Abbuhl said investigators told him the burglars used a special tool similar to a screwdriver to wedge between the glass and the frame in a window or sliding-glass door. When pried, the glass shatters without triggering any alarms connected to the frame.
“You’re left with glass in a million pieces,” the victim said. And that creates access to the loot.
“They took 50 years’ worth of my wife’s jewelry … collective coins, digital cameras … my Rolex,” Abbuhl said.
The burglars weren’t even deterred by Abbuhl’s dog, a 100-pound, 12-year-old Akita named Bailey. “They were throwing anything they could at her to keep her away,” said Abbuhl, including candles, candlesticks and shoes.
Paul Gentile, president of the Bay Cove Homeowners Association in Heron Bay, conceded that gated communities are no guarantee against determined thieves. “You can get through the gate pretty easy right now,” he said. “I’m concerned, obviously.”
The association plans to require bar codes on entering vehicles, effective next month.
In court on Wednesday, Pierre sobbed hysterically, hotly denying the charges against him.
“It’s a lie!” he yelled. “I’m innocent, it’s a lie!”
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