Washington: The leader of a gang of picky New York City burglars, who targeted the homes of Indian and South Asian residents around Washington for their gold jewellery, has been sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.
Dagoberto Soto Ramirez, 28, and his wife, Melinda M Soto, 34, of Queens, admitted that they travelled to Fairfax and Loudoun counties, two Washington suburbs in neighbouring Northern Virginia, from January to November of 2009, using online White Page listings to search for South Asian-sounding names.
Melinda Soto acknowledged she would knock on doors during the day to see if anyone was home, and if not, she would sit in their rented car and monitor a police scanner while her husband and another man, Francisco Gray, 40, broke in and searched for gold and other valuables.
About USD 600,000 worth of gold and other items were taken in 37 burglaries, prosecutors said.
The trio were arrested in the Clifton area in November 2009, but released after judges in Fairfax and Loudoun found no evidence in their car or hotel room tying them to any one burglary. Gray was then deported to Peru, and has not been located since.
Federal prosecutors picked up the case and last summer charged the trio with conspiracy to transport stolen goods across state line. The Sotos pleaded guilty, and Melinda Soto was sentenced last month to three years in prison.
Dagoberto Soto is a career criminal dating to age nine, prosecutors said in a brief. He faced a recommended sentencing range of 37 to 46 months, and US District Judge Leonie M Brinkema gave him the maximum.
The Sotos agreed to make restitution of USD 590,860, but in USD 200 monthly chunks to the 37 victim families. None of the stolen items was ever recovered.
Raman Kumar, one of the early victims who organised the community against the crime, told the judge: "As a minority community, we want protection. We want security."
"The South Asian community is a victim of an economically motivated - hate crime. The crimes justify most severe punishment under the law," he said.