Pasco County authorities hope an arrest made Monday in connection with a series of school burglaries will produce a domino affect, leading to the arrests of more suspects.
Alexis Rafeal Ortiz, 19, of 7014 Ingelside Dr., was arrested Monday and charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure or conveyance. He remains in the Land O’ Lakes Jail with a $30,000 bond.
Ortiz and at least six others are connected to Pasco County school burglaries dating back to October at Ridgewood High School, Calusa and Chasco elementary schools and Chasco Middle School, deputies said.
The group gathered $164,131 in stolen equipment – mainly electronics – and caused $1,475 in property damage between Oct. 15, 2012 and March 17, 2013, deputies said.
That thieves targeted places of learning is deplorable, said Pasco School Superintendant Kurt Browning.
“What aggravates me the most about this is … we have fences around our schools, we have doors locked, windows locked, we have security cameras, we have alarm systems and quite honestly, I don’t think we need to be securing our equipment in our own classrooms,” Browning said. “That’s the part that aggravates me and really angers me.”
Investigators believe the Apple products – laptops, iPads and iPods – are being sold to the public for a profit. Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco urged parents to find out if their children have recently come across new gadgets.
“If you have a child that’s out there and they have an Apple product, they have a computer that you didn’t pay for and you’re wondering where they got it, please notify law enforcement,” Nocco said. “They possibly could have gotten it through this burglary ring that’s out there selling it.”
Additionally, investigators are looking into a recent burglary at River Ridge Middle School of more than $8,700 worth of equipment. A similar method was used in breaking into the school.
Chasco Elementary School was the first hit by the ring on Oct. 15 and the school has been burglarized three times since. Chasco Middle and Chasco Elementary schools were both burglarized on Nov. 15. Chasco Middle School was hit once more on Feb. 19. Burglars gained entry into Calusa Elementary School on four separate occasions as well.
Ridgewood, a school Ortiz once attended, was burglarized on Feb. 27. That incident netted grainy surveillance video detectives have been using to crack the case.
Much of the illegal sales have taken place through social media outlets, according to Det. Rich Stackon.
“There was a lot of communication through social media,” Stackon said. “I guess these kids have 1,000 friends on their Facebook and someone throws out the feeler and says … ‘Hey I’ve got some iPads and iPods if anybody wants any.’ A couple people chime in and that’s how it spreads from there.”
Stackon said they have subpoenaed Apple to gain information from the application known as Find My iPad and Find My iPod in order to track the electronics.