MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade police believe they’ve broken up a ring that was stealing air conditioning units from homes in the Cutler Bay area.

The investigation, which involved Miami-Dade and Hialeah police along with the general investigation’s unit from Cutler Bay and the State Attorney’s Office, began a year ago when detectives recovered a stolen air-conditioning unit from a housing development.

Investigators said the men who stole the units had no problem removing them because they either owned or worked for air conditioning businesses.

“These individuals were individuals who for the most part are in the air conditioning industry. Some were installers and they had the knowledge to know how to resell these units,” said Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta.

“According to the developer, the Lenar Corporation, they stole more than $1.5 million worth of equipment,”

Zabaleta told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench.

Police were able to identify a ring which were targeting Lennar new housing developments and stealing the air conditioning units. The men would burglarize the homes to remove the inside of the units as well.

“We have been the victim of a series of thefts in our communities. We appreciate the good work of our community’s local police and offer our sincere thanks,” said the Lennar Corp.’s Marshall Ames.

Rafael Casals, the Town Manager for Cutler Bay, told D’Oench, “I think these are crimes of opportunity against the developer. In some cases the perpetrators mixed in with people at work. In other cases they were the people at work. I think our community is safer because these people were caught.”

Those taken into custody and charged with Grand Theft were Ariel Perez-Estupinan, 37; Orlando Noriega, 41; Mahe Batista, 34 and 46-year old Alejandro Llanes.

Police sources told D’Oench that Perez-Estupian and Batista were the ring leaders and were captured on surveillance tape released by police that showed them unlocking a door and removing an air conditioning unit and other equipment.

Forty two-year old Jose Miguel Ortiz, an employee of the Miami Herald, was also charged with grand theft after he reportedly bought an air conditioning unit knowing that it had been stolen.

Also arrested were 40-year old Nelson Borges, 40-year old Pablo Rafael Mesa Barquin and 52-year old Jose Antonio Alvarado.

Police were able to recover 10 stolen air conditioning units.


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