By Warren Talbot
---- — LAWRENCE - Sixteen people - nearly all with ties to the Merrimack Valley - have pleaded guilty in connection with an ATM and electronics theft operation that spanned across six counties and involved a six-year investigation, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office announced today.
The defendants, most of them from Lawrence, Haverhill and Methuen, have received a range of sentences, from probation to 16 years in state prison. The guilty pleas were made over the last 21 months during an investigation involving the state police, FBI and local law enforcement agencies.
An investigation into a string of ATM break-ins by the Massachusetts State Police Gang Unit began in April 2007 and merged with a similar investigation being conducted by the FBI.
“These 16 defendants have all pleaded guilty for their participation in an extensive criminal operation that spanned six counties and involved numerous break-ins, burglaries, and larcenies,” Coakley said in a statement.
“The convictions we have obtained were the result of countless hours of diligent, painstaking investigative work combined with a commitment to bring these people to justice. It is rewarding to us and, we hope, also to the banks and people who were victimized, to announce these convictions, Colonel Timothy P. Alben, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, said in the statement.
“The convictions we have obtained were the result of countless hours of diligent, painstaking investigative work combined with a commitment to bring these people to justice. It is rewarding to us and, we hope, also to the banks and people who were victimized, to announce these convictions.”
The 16 individuals were charged in March of 2011 for their involvement in an ongoing scheme to commit numerous burglaries and break-ins across the state, including the robbery of $340,000 in cash from several ATMs. The crimes were committed in Essex, Hampshire, Norfolk, Middlesex, Franklin and Worcester counties.
Investigators discovered that a major figure in the operation, Miguel Caraballo, and associates Michael Vasquez, Wilson Martinez, and Feliciano Colon - all from Lawrence - broke into an electronics store in upper New York and then, using two stolen delivery vans, transported the goods back to the Lawrence area where they intended to sell the items in Massachusetts.
Subsequently, the investigation revealed that Caraballo, with assistance from George Velasquez and Juan Rosa, also both from Lawrence - burglarized banks and businesses in multiple cities and towns in Massachusetts. They often used their friends or girlfriends as lookouts during these burglaries.
The scheme for the break-ins typically involved Caraballo and his associates stealing a vehicle, forcing their way through the backdoor of the ATM kiosk, and then disabling their alarm systems.
They broke into ATM vaults several ways, including the use of a cutting torch and the attempted use of a circular power saw.
Stolen vehicles were used to transport those committing the break-ins, the tools they used in the break-ins, and the money stolen from the ATMs. ATMs in Brookline, Acton, Bedford, and Tyngsboro were successfully broken into by members of this group, while failed attempts were made in Amherst, Gardner, Fitchburg, and Whately. Caraballo and his associates also broke into businesses in Dedham, Fitchburg, and Leominster.