LA 'flocking' burglars targeting celebrities prefer cash and jewelry over iPads, laptops

'Flocking" burglary victims (left to right) Alanis Morissette, Emmy Rossum and Nicki Minaj are shown in this combination image. (AP file photos)
Updated 01 April 2017
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LA 'flocking' burglars targeting celebrities prefer cash and jewelry over iPads, laptops

LOS ANGELES: The gang members start their days in the impoverished neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, but their real work begins in some of the city’s wealthiest enclaves.
Each day, the gang hand-picks teams of burglars, who ditch their usual attire for button-down shirts and hop into shiny luxury sedans to blend in as they search for prime targets: homes with no one inside and lots of jewelry and other valuables on hand.
Celebrities including Nicki Minaj and Alanis Morissette are among the suspected recent victims of a crime trend known as “flocking,” so named because gang members flock like birds to areas where residential burglaries provide the biggest payoff.
They knock on the front door and, if no one answers, break in. The burglars often do not know whose home they are targeting, making it inevitable in Los Angeles that they sometimes hit houses of the nation’s best-known actors, singers and other entertainment figures, police said.
Since January, other victims have included Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and Lakers star Nick Young. Actress Emmy Rossum reported $150,000 in jewelry taken last week from a safe in her home.
After news of the burglary broke Tuesday, the “Shameless” star tweeted, “Thank you to the LAPD. I fully support the police efforts and dedication.”
Morissette had about $2 million in jewelry and valuables stolen from her Brentwood mansion. Young lost about $500,000 in jewelry and other items during a burglary at his Tarzana home, police said.
So far, no arrests have been made in any of the celebrity cases.
Although some of the recent break-ins have shared similarities, authorities do not believe a single group is responsible or that stars are being targeted. However, investigators suspect that most of the burglaries are being committed by members of the same street gang, the Rollin’ 30s Harlem Crips.
Their day follows a regular routine. Gang leaders meet in the morning on their home turf and select crews of four or five people from a pool of about 100 gang members — male and female — who will do the burglaries that day, Los Angeles Police Detective William Dunn said.
The crews rotate so the same people are not seen in same neighborhoods and become recognizable.
“They are looking for homes where they think there’s a lot of jewelry inside, BMWs, Mercedes, brand-new cars in the driveway,” Dunn said.
Once they identify a house that looks empty, they send one person to knock on the door, Dunn said.
If no one responds, other gang members break through a side door or smash a window. If no alarm sounds, they head immediately to the master bedroom. In most cases, they are out of the homes within about three minutes and head back to South Los Angeles to pawn any stolen jewelry.
“They don’t take televisions or laptops or iPads,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Michael Maher, a member of the agency’s specialized burglary task force. “Typically it’s a hunt for cash, jewelry and weapons.”
The teams take care to look for houses that appear free of surveillance cameras or other security systems. If someone answers the door, they will say they are at the wrong house and just walk away, police said.
Authorities will not discuss security measures at any of the houses that were hit, so it’s unclear if those homes had alarms or fences. But, speaking generally, police said many people do not turn on their alarms and buy cheap safes that can be muscled out by determined burglars.
Even if an alarm does go off, the noise sometimes just motives the teams to work faster because they know they can be out of the house by the time the alarm company calls the homeowner, then contacts police, Dunn said.
Gang members arrested for “flocking” have told investigators their goal is to get about $10,000 per day from the burglaries, Maher said. The money is used to support the gangs and create bail funds to free members who get arrested, Maher said.
“These gangs have become more sophisticated, and flocking is a large portion of that,” Maher said. “It is sort of evolving what was a street-level thug. We see high-level gang members driving extremely expensive vehicles, wearing very nice clothing committing residential burglaries.”
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Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 .


Japan’s ‘Uncle Olympics’ fan dies just short of 2020 Games

Naotoshi Yamada, above, was planning to attend the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. (Reuters/File)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Japan’s ‘Uncle Olympics’ fan dies just short of 2020 Games

  • The man attended all summer games since 1964
  • He often wore a golden hat when he attended the games

TOKYO: A Japanese Olympic mega-fan who attended every summer games since Tokyo in 1964 has died, just over a year before his home city was to host its second Olympics.
Tokyo businessman Naotoshi Yamada, 92, who died on March 9 from heart failure, was a national celebrity in his own right with his repeated, gleeful appearances in Olympic stands.
“Uncle Olympics,” as he came to be known, was an omnipresent fixture for Japanese TV watchers cheering on the Japan team at the “Greatest Show On Earth.”
Often sporting a gold top hat, kimono, and a beaming smile, Yamada also became a darling of the international media.
“After 92 years of his life spent cheering, Naotoshi Yamada, international Olympic cheerleader, was called to eternal rest on March 9, 2019,” said his web site, managed by a firm he founded.
Born in 1926, Yamada built a successful wire rope manufacturing business, and also expanded his portfolio to include the hotel and real estate sectors.
But away from work, his passion was for sport, particularly the Olympics.
He did not miss a summer games since 1964, taking in Mexico City, Munich, Montreal, Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro.
For good measure, he also attended the winter games when it rolled into Nagano in 1998, and told local media of his strong desire to attend the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Yamada saw the first Tokyo Olympics when he was 38.
But his passion was truly ignited during the 1968 Mexico City Games, according to his website.
He donned a kimono and a sombrero hat and loudly cheered for a Mexican 5000-meter runner, mistaking him for a Japanese athlete.
Local spectators embraced the scene and loudly cheered for Japanese athletes in return, leading to an electrifying show of support that went beyond nationality, his website said.
“He saw the awesome power of cheering, and was mesmerised by it ever since,” it said.