July 20, 2007 — -- A group of expert burglars has stolen more than $7 million in cash and valuables over the last year in a string of robberies in some of Los Angeles' wealthiest neighborhoods, authorities and residents said.
Two, or possibly three, burglars wearing ski masks and gloves have stolen mostly cash and jewelry, in the ritzy Los Angeles neighborhoods of Brentwood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air, Lt. Ruben de la Torre of the Los Angeles Police Department told ABC News.
"They're going to exclusive homes," he said. "Obviously, they're doing a lot of research. They know exactly what they're doing."
More than 70 homes have been hit in the recent robberies, which were originally reported by the Los Angeles Times, and the growing list of victims reportedly includes celebrities, musicians and sports stars.
The police have not released the names of the targets. But Al Radi, president of ACS Security, a private home security company in Bel Air, confirmed to ABC News that Oscar-winning director William Friedkin and his wife, former Paramount Pictures head Sherry Lansing, were among the victims of the recent crime spree.
He also said that country music stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were robbed, as originally reported by the Los Angeles Times.
The Times, citing sources with knowledge of the investigation, reported that thieves stole $500,000 in cash and jewelry from Clippers basketball player Cuttino Mobley. Duran Duran guitarist John Taylor and his wife, Juicy Couture president Gela Nash-Taylor, had a safe taken from their Hollywood Hills home in April, the Times said.
"This is a very big problem," said City Councilman Jack Weiss, a former federal prosecutor, who has helped arrange a $50,000 city reward for information that breaks the case. "Dozens and dozens of high-end homes have been hit in a very elaborate, planned, premeditated and successful manner for well over a year.
The burglars usually hit homes at nights and on the weekends, and often break sliding glass doors or climb in through second floor windows, which may not be alarmed, police and residents said. The homes are often set back from the street and covered by trees or other foliage, making them difficult for neighbors to see.
"A lot of homes you don't even see from the street," said Robert Ringler, vice president of the Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council.
Radi, of ACS, said many of the houses that were robbed did not have their alarms turned on.
So far, police seem to have few leads. "These guys have knowledge of how to evade alarm systems and are good at getting in and out quickly," Weiss said. "They're very sophisticated, accomplished criminals."
Caught on Tape
But police may have gotten a break. A security camera at an Encino estate that was recently robbed caught an image of two muscular, 200-pound-plus men without their masks, police said.
Residents said they are installing more video cameras, encouraging neighbors to turn on alarms and pushing police to add more patrol officers to the area.
Nicole Miner of the Benedict Canyon Homeowners Association said her neighbors are putting their valuables in safety deposit boxes, instead of leaving them at home.
"It's just really bad, and we're getting very fed up," she said. "It's a tremendous emotional violation."