Inside the national home invasion ring — and how authorities brought it down

Chaka Castro, in an undated Facebook photo.
Chaka Castro, in an undated Facebook photo.

This story was reported by Vernal Coleman, Brian Amaral, Vinessa Erminio and Mark Mueller. It was written by Mueller.

HOUSTON — It was an operation by turns sophisticated and brutish, employing financial databases, demographic data, pinpoint targets, the element of surprise and, not least, violence and intimidation, authorities say.

Its disparate members included a hulking Colombian national, an aspiring teenage model with a steady job and a troubled young man who relatives said had served his country in the U.S. Army.

Presiding over it all, authorities said, was a 39-year-old mother of five whom investigators likened to a modern-day Fagin, the grizzled vagabond who leads a band of street-wise pickpockets in the classic tale “Oliver Twist.”

For the past five months, and perhaps longer, the Houston-based crew has terrorized Asian and Asian-Indian communities across the eastern half of the United States, carrying out home-invasion robberies in which victims were bound with duct tape and, in some cases, beaten or pistol-whipped, authorities said.

The group — charged last week with five attacks in New Jersey during October and November — has now been linked to additional home invasions in Michigan, Georgia and Texas, police in those states said. Detectives in New York say the same suspects might be responsible for a Long Island home invasion on Halloween.

Through interviews with law enforcement officials and with family members and friends of the suspects, NJ Advance Media has developed the clearest portrait yet of the defendants, who face decades behind bars if convicted in the multistate crime spree. The interviews also show how investigators in various states pieced the case together, contributing critical strands of information that displayed the operation’s extraordinary reach.

Read the story at NJ.com (Dec. 21, 2014)

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