It’s bad enough when burglars pose as utility workers, or even alarm company employees, so they can rip you off. But how about when a real utility worker uses his employment status to do just that over and over again, and gets away with it? That is, until recently. In this case, it was a sewer worker who will be “going away” for a long time, as recounted in this story, from Sacramento, California. What these intruders are really looking for is an empty home to rob – preferably without a monitored alarm system. And the bad news is, four out of five homes don’t have a monitored alarm system.
A 50-year-old man who often posed a sewer worker while burglarizing homes was sentenced today to 425 years to life in prison. A Sacramento County jury convicted Ceasar Fontillas of multiple counts of residential burglary, attempted burglary and one count of receiving stolen property.
What He Did – and How
From Sept. 14, 2009, to March 8, 2010, Fontillas prowled through neighborhoods in the Pocket and Elk Grove areas looking for homes to burglarize, officials said. Once he found a target house, Fontillas knocked on the front door to determine whether anyone was home. If no one answered after a few minutes, he forced the door open and ransacked the home, taking thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry and electronics. In several instances, Fontillas was confronted by homeowners as he attempted to commit or complete a burglary. When that occurred, officials said, he claimed he was a Sacramento Sewer Department employee who had been sent to the residence make to make sure the sewers were working properly.
Here’s the Kicker
Fontillas did work as shift supervisor for the Sacramento County Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant but he had no legitimate reason to be at any of the targeted homes. During this time, officials said, Fontillas sold numerous items that he had stolen to unsuspecting co-workers at the treatment plant.
Utility workers (real or fake) aren’t just committing burglaries in Sacramento: I’ve read reports and warnings from other jurisdictions, like this one from Los Angeles, California.
Several burglars posing as city employees have burglarized at least nine San Fernando Valley homes over the past year, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Known as “distraction burglars,” these thieves pose as city construction workers or Department of Water and Power employees, and they work in teams to approach residences and distract their inhabitants. As the burglars lead their victims to the backyard or into another part of the house — ostensibly to check wires or address technical issues — another member of the team will slip into the residence and steal valuables, officers said.
The recent incidents have taken place in the Foothill Station’s patrol area, which includes Pacoima, Sunland-Tujunga and Lake View Terrace. But similar burglaries have also occurred elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley and on the Westside, LAPD Detective Hector Guzman said. The North Hollywood, Van Nuys and West Los Angeles stations have also reported distraction burglaries in their patrol areas, Guzman said. Guzman said he cannot confirm that all of the robberies are connected, since different victims have described different-looking suspects. “We’re trying to get any information,” Guzman said. “Some [of the suspects] are the same, some are different.” Detectives advised residents not to let anyone enter their homes without first confirming their identities.
Officials at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have issued a customer alert that warns of recent incidents involving impostors posing as utility service workers. Recently reported incidents are “distraction burglaries,” where one impostor diverts the attention of the resident while another searches the home for valuable items to steal. LADWP customers are asked to call 1-800-DIAL-DWP to verify the worker’s identity, employment and purpose of visit before granting access to any part of their property.
Employees should be able to present their department-issued IDs and give their name, employee number and supervisor name at any time upon request during a visit. “Distraction burglary is an important issue for us, but the good news is that this form of victimization is easily preventable,” said Patrick Findley, Director of LADWP Security Services Division in a press statement. “The more our customers know about it, the less likely it is to happen, so help us spread the word among your family, friends and neighbors.”
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