LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was one of six people arrested recently during a multiagency probe of a burglary ring that hit at least 15 homes across Southern California, including seven in Ventura County, authorities said Tuesday.
Wearing collared shirts and using new rental cars to blend into their surroundings, a group composed largely of alleged Los Angeles gang members stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry, cash and other items, Ventura County sheriff’s officials said.
Khajana Jones, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, lived with one of the suspects, officials said. While she is not suspected of participating directly in the burglaries, authorities believe she knew her live-in boyfriend was obtaining cash and jewelry illegally and allowed him to keep the items at the residence, officials said. She has been relieved of duty pending the investigation.
The group targeted homes from Thousand Oaks and Oak Park to Pasadena and Tustin, said Sgt. Bill Schierman of the Ventura County sheriff’s gang unit.
Sometimes working with girlfriends, the suspects hit upscale homes across a wide area in an apparent attempt to avoid apprehension, then used the proceeds to support lavish lifestyles, officials allege. Investigators believe the suspects would knock on the front door, go around the back when no one answered and enter through open doors or force their way inside, Schierman said.
“This was a very sophisticated group,” Schierman said. “If you want to talk about a professional burglary crew, this was them.”
The break in the case came after the Jan. 20 burglary of an unoccupied home in the 1300 block of Doral Circle in Thousand Oaks, officials said.
Three men forced their way into the home, then fled when the residents returned home. A witness was able to describe the vehicle and give authorities a partial license plate number, officials said.
Investigators determined it was a sport utility vehicle rented by Merchuria Cooper, 31, of Los Angeles, officials said. That led detectives to identify another suspect, Kenneth Hall, 37, of Los Angeles, officials said.
Hall was Cooper’s boyfriend and had previously been stopped in a vehicle associated with her, officials said. He went to prison for a 1999 burglary attempt in Camarillo’s Spanish Hills, Schierman said. An alleged Los Angeles gang member, Hall was on parole for a 2005 residential burglary and was wanted for violating the terms of his release, officials said.
To find other suspects, authorities launched an investigation that included Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives. They later identified Los Angeles residents Dennis Coleman, 33, Miles Chaissions, 20, and Don Mosley, 32, as suspects, officials said.
Hall and Coleman appeared to be unemployed but owned or rented luxury vehicles, went on shopping sprees and spent thousands of dollars at nightclubs, officials said.
Investigators believe Coleman, Chaissions and Hall are responsible for burglarizing seven homes in Ventura County since the beginning of December. They and Mosley are suspected of committing eight more residential burglaries in Los Angeles and Orange counties during the same period, officials said.
Mosley was arrested Feb. 12 after he and two others allegedly burglarized two homes in Pacific Palisades, officials said.
Ventura County investigators learned about the burglary, and when Los Angeles police tried to pull over the suspects, they led police on a chase that reached 100 mph on the Pacific Coast Highway, officials said.
The suspects threw jewelry out of the vehicle during the chase before abandoning the vehicle in Santa Monica, officials said. Mosley was caught a short distance away. The other two escaped, officials said.
Mosley was booked into Los Angeles County jail, where he remained this week in lieu of $1 million bail.
Hall was arrested on a parole warrant in Las Vegas, where he remained in custody without bail this week, authorities said.
The other suspects were arrested around the time authorities served a series of search warrants in the Los Angeles area on Feb. 22, officials said.
Cooper was arrested at her residence and booked into Ventura County jail on suspicion of burglary and conspiracy, authorities said.
Investigators found large sums of cash and apparent stolen property at the home deputy Jones shared with Coleman, officials said. Jones was arrested on suspicion of burglary and being an accessory to commit burglary, Schierman said.
A 35-year-old Los Angeles resident, the deputy was booked into Ventura County jail Feb. 22 and released the next day, jail records show.
A six-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Jones was most recently assigned to its custody division, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the department.
Jones has been relieved of duty with pay, Whitmore said. The department is monitoring the investigation, and if Jones is charged with a felony, she could be stripped of her pay, he said. If convicted, Jones could be fired.
Coleman and Chaissions pleaded not guilty Friday to charges related to the alleged thefts of more than $200,000 in cash, jewelry and other items.
The investigation is continuing, and authorities said they expect to uncover more burglaries and make more arrests.
Schierman said he wouldn’t be surprised if the value of goods stolen reaches $1 million.
“This is the largest burglary investigation I’ve seen,” said the sergeant, a 23-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.