Members of a national gang are back in metro Denver targeting moms while they drop children off at daycare centers or while they're exercising at the gym.
“We’re working three cases right now,” said Julie Brooks of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.
Brooks said the crooks are watching for areas where women leave their cars unlocked, briefly, with their purses inside.
She said the incidents occurred Dec. 17 and 18 on the 9000 block of East Mineral Avenue, 6800 block of South Homestead Parkway and the 10400 block of East Easter Avenue.
A red Chevy Tahoe occupied by two black males was seen idling near one of the victim’s vehicles just prior to it being broken into, Brooks said.
“They target purses specifically for checks,” she added. “They take them to the bank and pass them.”
Tish Smith was one of the victims.
“They broke into my car the Friday before Christmas,” Smith told Denver7. “I went in to drop my daughter off at daycare, came back out, I was in there for five minutes and when I came back out, my window was busted and they had stolen my purse.”
Smith said the thieves got $300 worth of gift cards and wrote checks totaling $5,000.
“I’m amazed that they were able to get that money from the bank,” she said.
The problem is so bad nationwide, that law enforcement agencies in several states have formed a “Felony Lane Gang Task Force” and have created a Facebook page, where they’ve posted pictures and video of the suspects.
The Facebook page also contains a map showing all the major cities that have seen Felony Lane Gang activity.
“They’re known to return to areas where it has been lucrative and we think they’re back in our area now,” Brooks said.
In addition to daycare centers and gyms, moms have been targeted in open space areas, dog parks and shopping centers.
The Douglas County Sheriff is also investigating several break-ins with the same modus operandi.
Brooks told Denver7 that gang members are recruiting low-level people locally who will take the fall if they get arrested and who they know can be manipulated.
She said the local recruits will get some quick cash and the out-of-staters are leaving “with a lot more dough.”
Brooks said members of the FLG group usually work in teams of three or four people.
“They may sit idling in lots while surveilling the area,” she said.
“I think it’s sad taking advantage of mothers who work all day coming to get their babies,” said Rebecca Redding, while picking her daughter up at Belle’s & Beau’s Academy, a daycare center in one of the neighborhoods that was hit.
Redding walked back out to her car and grabbed her purse after Denver7 told her that that two moms who use the same daycare had been targeted.
“As soon as I heard what was going on,” she said, “I wasn’t going to be a target. I wasn’t going to take a risk.”
The owner of Belle’s & Beau’s told Denver7 that they put out a flyer and warned parents to watch out for suspicious vehicles or individuals who appear to be out of place or surveilling the area.
“We told them to be vigilant,” said Joe Nigro, “and to not leave anything in their cars.”
Kazia Washington said she never does.
“I always keep my wallet and my checkbook with me in both of my pockets whenever I go in,” she said.
Brooks said the Sheriff’s Office is encouraging the community to use its eyes and ears.
“They’re going to recognize vehicles that aren’t supposed to be there -- vehicles that are new, people who look suspicious just sitting idling,” she said.
Anyone with information about the local crimes is asked to call the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office tip line at (720) 874-8477.