Washington Desis Upset as Picky Gold Thieves Go Scot-free

By Arun Kumar

Washington, March 5 (IANS) South Asian residents of Washington metropolitan area targeted by a group of picky burglars for their gold jewellery are upset over dismissal of 12 more charges against two suspects.

The dismissal of charges against the two suspects by prosecutors in Loudoun county in Northern Virginia Thursday marked the collapse of the police investigation into the burglaries of more than 30 homes in Fairfax and Loudoun counties last year.

Since last summer burglars had been for months targeting South Asian homes to steal only pure gold items and ignoring other valuables, until three New Yorkers were arrested in November in the Clifton area of Fairfax, a Washington suburb.

Now only one charge, an attempted burglary in which nothing was taken, remains against one defendant in Fairfax. Two other defendants have no criminal charges, though one remains held on an immigration detainer, prosecutors said.

"The community's completely shocked," said Raman Kumar, whose Centreville home was burglarised in February 2009. "They should have gone forward and let the judge decide. At least they should have tried."

Victims of the burglary spree, as well as other area Indian-Americans with whom he had spoken, were "frustrated" by the outcome of the cases, Kumar said. However, he said, "We hope that justice will be served at least for Dagoberto Soto-Ramirez, and he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Since the burglaries became widespread, he said, South Asians in the area had begun watching each other's homes and forming neighbourhood watches. Also, "South Asians are not keeping 100-percent gold in their houses. That's the biggest change," he said.

In Loudoun, General District Court Judge Julia Taylor Cannon last month dismissed six burglary and grand larceny charges against Francisco Gray after a lengthy preliminary hearing.

Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney James Plowman said Thursday that the evidence against Gray's co-defendants-Dagoberto Soto-Ramirez and his wife Melinda Soto-was essentially the same, and that Cannon would again hear the case, according to the Washington Post.

Plowman said prosecutors felt Cannon would likely dismiss these cases again.

"There was a lack of evidence," Plowman was quoted as saying.

In a Fairfax preliminary hearing in January, police revealed they had not found any stolen gold or other items when they arrested Gray, Soto and Soto-Ramirez, though they did find a police scanner and large screwdrivers in their rented Ford Escape.

Evidence found in their hotel room-a list of addresses indicating Indian homeowners, police radio frequencies and police district boundaries-had not been located until long after the room had been cleaned out, and was excluded by Fairfax General District Court Judge Ian O'Flaherty.

After O'Flaherty dismissed all but one Fairfax charge, prosecutors said they would consider indicting the three defendants anyway.

The judge also certified the final breaking-and-entering charge against Soto-Ramirez be heard by a grand jury on April 5.


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