NY woman admits targeting South Asians for gold

The woman says she and two men targeted homes of South Asian families.

Washington: A New York City woman has admitted that she and two men targeted homes of South Asian families in the Washington suburbs, stealing gold jewellery, coins and religious icons.

Melinda M Soto, 34, of Queens, detailed in federal court in Alexandria on Friday how the gang of three burglarised 37 homes in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, two Washington suburbs in neighbouring Northern Virginia, and stole more than USD 500,000 worth of gold and other valuables.

Soto also agreed to testify against her husband, Dagoberto Soto Ramirez, 27, who faces trial next month, and their friend Francisco Gray, 39, who was deported to Peru after an initial series of cases against them collapsed in Fairfax and Loudoun courts.

Soto`s guilty plea was entered minutes after US District Judge Leonie M Brinkema denied her attorneys` motions to suppress evidence seized in the case.

The plea signals a successful outcome for a case that appeared dead after judges in Fairfax and Loudoun threw out charges last winter. But in May, Fairfax, Loudoun and Virginia`s Attorneys requested federal prosecutors to pick up the case. Federal conspiracy indictments were obtained in July.

Raman Kumar, one of the first victims who attended many of the hearings in Fairfax, expressed happiness at the denial of pre-trial motions.

"I was very happy," Kumar said, "knowing that the same trick the defence attorneys used in Fairfax and Loudoun did not work in federal court. . . . It`s definitely a win situation for the victim families."

Kumar also said the families had long wondered how the New Yorkers figured out who they are and where they live. Soto provided some answers on Friday.

In a statement of facts read in court, Soto said she and her associates knew that some South Asians keep large amounts of gold in their homes. So they scanned the White Pages online for the addresses of people with South Asian-seeming names and then used a Global Positioning System device to find the actual addresses.

The trio also used the Internet to obtain Fairfax and Loudoun police radio frequencies, and they bought a scanner to listen to police radio traffic while they were in the area.

The victims still hold out hope of recovering some of the stolen items, Kumar said. "Most of the jewellery was heirloom jewellery, which money can`t replace," Kumar said. "Is she going to disclose where she sold it, and can it be recovered?"