INDIO – Three suspects were arrested on suspicion of burglarizing at least 20 homes for sale across the Coachella Valley by breaking into “lock boxes,” which are used by real estate agents to allow properties to be shown to prospective buyers, police said Tuesday.
Matthew Garrett McLeroy, 27, of Indian Wells, and Indio residents Melissa Louise Monte, 23, and Michael Ray Delara, 26, were arrested early Monday on suspicion of breaking into the “lock boxes” and using the house keys found inside the boxes to gain entry to the homes.
Legitimate real estate sales professionals have secret access codes or keys for those lock boxes.
“To anybody in the neighborhood, it was probably business as usual,” Indio police spokesman Ben Guitron said. “These suspects were well dressed, driving decent vehicles, so to anyone’s eye they probably didn’t see any suspicious circumstances.”
He said the homes that were burglarized were both within and outside gated communities in Indian Wells, Indio, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage.
Detectives recovered around $250,000 in stolen property — including a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle, watches, jewelry, electronics and a telescope — which was displayed for news crews this afternoon at the Indio Police Department.
The break in the case came when officers responded to a report of people moving large amounts of property from their vehicles into motel rooms at the Palm Tree Inn, 84115 Indio Blvd., around 1 a.m. Monday, Guitron said.
Officers began surveillance of the suspects and obtained search warrants for the motel rooms, where property allegedly yielded in the burglaries was found, along with several broken lock boxes, Guitron said.
The suspects had been “profiling the homes” to make sure no one would be around when they committed the burglaries, he alleged.
The robbers apparently wheeled out some of the items in suitcases.
“Unfortunately it brings a lesson: you need to be aware of your surroundings,” Guitron said. “We obviously need to make sure that those who are selling homes under those type of business arrangements (are taking) some precautionary measures.”
He noted most of the burglaries went undetected by neighbors.
“They were never called in until the homeowner realized they were the victim of a burglary,” Guitron said.
He said authorities expect about 90 percent of the items will be returned to the rightful owners. Proof of ownership or copies of police reports documenting losses are required before items can be returned.
McLeroy and Delara were released from the Indio Jail on $5,000 bail, but Monte was still in custody in lieu of $5,000 bail. Monte is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow for arraignment. Court dates for the two men were not immediately available.
Anyone who has property to claim should call the Indio Police Department at (760) 541-4519.