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Egg Harbor Township police continue investigation into burglaries of Asian homeowners – Press of Atlantic City

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Thanh Huynh, who works at AK Nails & Spa in Northfield, says security cameras recorded a woman scoping out her Egg Harbor Township home for about five to 10 minutes. That woman then made a call to a group that broke through a glass back door and ransacked her house.
Staff Writer
The Egg Harbor Township Police Department warned residents in a May 2 Facebook post of home-invasion burglaries ostensibly targeting owners and employees of Asian businesses.
Thanh Huynh, who works at AK Nails & Spa in Northfield, was among those targeted. She told The Press of Atlantic City that security cameras recorded a woman scoping out her Egg Harbor Township home for about five to 10 minutes. That woman then made a call to a group that broke through a glass back door and ransacked her house.
Law enforcement told her they suspected the culprits had surveilled her at work and followed her home to stage the burglary, she said.
Detective Michael Santoro said there had been five such burglaries in Egg Harbor Township in the past year, as well as one each in Absecon and Hamilton Township. The most recent incident happened in April.
The crimes have targeted people working at massage parlors, restaurants and nail salons, Santoro said. Although all the burglary victims have been Asian, he cautioned that law enforcement had not yet determined a motive for the crimes. It was possible, Santoro said, that the burglars were targeting businesses they believed to be dealing primarily in cash.
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Santoro described a sophisticated scheme by which the crimes are staged. The burglars scout out a business and follow targeted employees or owners home, often over the course of several days. Once they learn where these workers live, one member of the group approaches the house disguised as a delivery worker to scout the residence.
Once they are satisfied the residence is empty, the burglars have at times cut the power to the building at the electric meter box, in an attempt to disable any alarm systems. They then break in through a window or sliding door and ransack the house for valuables.
Huynh, who is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent and goes by the name Trinny at work, said everything that was stolen from her was inexpensive and that she did not carry much cash on her. She said the largest expense she incurred was the broken door by which the burglars entered.
“There’s nothing in there, nothing,” Huynh said, laughing. “Just only like Macy’s jewelry.”
She said she had seen on security camera footage a man surveil her electric meter at the back of her house several days before the burglary.
“We thought it was just a gas guy or a meter guy, you know, we don’t pay attention to it,” Huynh said. “And then like a week or something after, they (the burglars) showed up.”
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The police warning has prompted some concern in the township and surrounding area.
Jessica Vu, an employee at Noodle House Hu Tieu Mien Tay in Pleasantville, had also heard of the trend of burglaries.
While Vu said neither the restaurant nor its staff had any experience with major burglaries, it did have to deal with the occasional petty theft of takeout and has contacted police about the matter.
“It makes me feel uneasy, not knowing someone’s intentions when they come in,” Vu said.
Vu said police should be sure to review any relevant security camera footage from targeted businesses and develop a relationship with the local business owners and employees in the area.
Residents and business owners overall said there was community awareness of the trend, and while there was concern, most people were trying to be more mindful of surroundings and were encouraged that law enforcement was taking the situation seriously.
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The burglars tend to operate in groups of about four or five, with three to four males and one female, Santoro said. Police said SUVs and sedans have been used during the operation, most with out-of-state license plates and temporary tags.
Santoro said investigators believe the vehicles could be rentals.
It has not been determined whether there is only one crew staging the burglaries in Atlantic County.
Owing to the sophistication of the crimes and the resources being used, Santoro said police suspect the burglaries may be related to a larger, interstate, organized-crime network.
Egg Harbor Township police are collaborating with county, state and federal law enforcement agencies on the investigation, Santoro said.
The involvement of an interstate criminal organization in the recent burglaries around the township would not be unprecedented. Eight people were federally charged in May 2021 for their alleged roles in an interstate conspiracy to burglarize the residences of Asian business owners around North Jersey. Law enforcement alleged the crew intended to steal the dollar-cash proceeds of the businesses, along with any foreign currency, jewelry and other property that could be found on the premises.
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Five of the accused were from New Jersey, specifically Essex and Union counties, while three were from Pennsylvania, according to a federal news release. More than 50 burglaries were allegedly tied to the group of eight people charged. Racist notes listing home addresses and disparaging the ethnicities of the targeted homeowners were uncovered in the vehicles believed to have been used in the burglaries.
Egg Harbor Township Committeeman Joe O’Donoghue, a former area police officer, praised township police for their work investigating the crimes and their work within the community. While he said he did not know whether the incidents were hate crimes, O’Donoghue, who is Japanese American, did raise concerns about the local and national spread of violent incidents targeting the Asian community.
The committeeman has previously recalled how his family had been subject to bigotry, including his grandfather, who was the first Asian American citizen of Atlantic County. O’Donoghue got his nickname, “Tokyo Joe,” from other students bullying him in school.
“The Asian community nationally has gone through some transition, as you know, being singled out simply because they’re Asian — personal assaults, robberies, all sorts of things,” O’Donoghue said.
There was an outburst of anti-Asian bigotry shortly after the advent of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The group Stop AAPI Hate, which advocates for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, recorded 3,795 anti-Asian hate incidents in the United States from March 19, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021. About 35% of those incidents happened at businesses.
The FBI reported a 77% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020 over 2019.
Huynh said she wanted to help make the community aware of the crimes, saying the thefts hurt people working hard to save money for themselves and their family.
She also expressed sympathy for whatever people are behind the burglaries, and said they might be driven to stealing by struggles in their family.
“I just feel like if (the burglars) do something, they might be really needy, maybe have a reason in their life … that bring them to the wrong direction, where they are right now,” Huynh said. “But everybody has to care for each other.”
Police recommend that people avoid keeping large amounts of cash in their home and install hidden cameras around and within a residence. They further ask that residents keep their burglar alarms readied and ask neighbors to watch over their property.
If residents notice anyone following them, they are urged to call 911 or the number for their local police department.
Contact Chris Doyle
cdoyle@pressofac.com
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Thanh Huynh, who works at AK Nails & Spa in Northfield, says security cameras recorded a woman scoping out her Egg Harbor Township home for about five to 10 minutes. That woman then made a call to a group that broke through a glass back door and ransacked her house.
Staff Writer
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