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Virginia burglars sentenced, community thanks police

February 12, 2011 05:24 IST
Dagoberto Soto-Ramirez, 28, a New Yorker indicted in the serial burglary in Indian homes in Northern Virginia, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. His wife Melinda Marie Soto, 34, was sentenced earlier to three years. Both were ordered to pay $ 590,860 in restitution to the 37 burglary victims in $200 monthly installments. None of the stolen items have been recovered.

Both earlier pleaded guilty in the federal court in Alexandria for breaking into 37 homes and stealing gold and other valuables between January and November 2009. Francisco Gray, the third person arrested, was deported to his native Peru earlier.

"The South Asian community would like to thank the federal authorities for taking over the case after the cases collapsed in Fairfax and Loundon County General District and Circuit courts," said Raman Kumar, one of the victims. He said the victims had given up hope of recovering the stolen goods. "Officials indicated that the gold items were sold in New York, but were melted," he said.

Initially the local courts dismissed most of the charges against the three suspects, resulting in Soto and Gray being freed. Soto-Ramirez was convicted in the Fairfax County Circuit Court for attempting to burgle a home and for possessing a tool that could be used in a burglary. He was sentenced to a year in prison and was ordered to pay a $ 1,500 fine for possession of the tool. After a hue and cry from the community, the federal authorities stepped in and filed charges against them in federal court, which resulted in the conviction.

The prosecution noted that the three drove to Northern Virginia, where they rented a room at the Landmark Comfort Inn in Alexandria. From there they would drive to targeted residences and call up the residence to determine whether anyone was home. If no one answered the phone calls, Soto-Ramirez, dressed in a blue workman-style uniform, would knock on the front door. If someone answered, he would claim to be responding to a service call, apologize and leave. If no one answered, Ramirez-Soto and Gray would break into the residence through a back or basement door or window using a large screwdriver or pry bar.

They would search for gold items or other valuables including laptop, cameras, watches and documents like passport. Melinda would remain in the vehicle and monitor the police radio communications.

Elanchezhian Sivagnanam, a victim, told the local media that they lost jewelry worth around $ 92,000, US passports and social security cards. 'It was a devastating loss for us,' Sivagnanam said.

The burglars, Kumar pointed out, "possessed sophisticated equipment to detect gold, police scanner, break-through security systems like Viper, ADT and enter homes without setting off alarms. These are not any ordinary burglars. Dagoberto Soto is a multi-state offender with prior arrests in California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia. He is certainly capable of traveling anywhere within the US to commit crimes.'

A Correspondent in New York