By Matthew Monks
“We've really, really got a good grip on this group,” said Deputy Chief of Queens Borough North James Hall Sunday at a press conference in Manhattan, noting that police have arrested 52 of the 58 members of the “Codwise Gang,” named after Codwise Place in Corona where the first break-ins occurred in April 2002.
Working in teams of three, the gang targeted homes in quiet, upscale neighborhoods in Bayside, Whitestone, Flushing, Jackson Heights, South Ozone Park and Fresh Meadows, Hall said.
They carried crowbars, screwdrivers and Nextel or Motorola walkie-talkies on jobs, targeting Asian and South Asian homes because they thought they would have large stashes of cash or jewels, the chief said.
They also hit homes in New Jersey; Dorchester, Mass.; Suffolk, Conn.; and Nassau, L.I., he said.
Nearly all of the gang members are illegal immigrants from Cali, Colombia, he said. Their ages range from 17 to 40, and many are related or romantically linked. Many also had criminal records, he said, with a combined total or roughly 160 previous arrests.
While they are all from Colombia, Hall said the gang did not appear to have recruited its members there.
The full-time burglars lived in the western Queens neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Long Island City. Holding no legitimate jobs, they were hitting as many as six houses a day when their burglary spree peaked in March, Hall said.
“They actually saw that this could be extremely profitable,” Hall said. “Their agenda was to steal, to steal, to steal, to steal.”
The gang operated for two years and evolved from a tight group of experienced thieves into a sprawling, loose-knit crew of sloppier crooks, he said. Most of the original members were nabbed between April 2002 and October 2002, when police made 20 arrests, he said.
The second generation began working early this year, often meeting at a bar on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, Esmeralda De Colombia Restaurant, to plan jobs, he said.
Police cracked down on the second generation between Feb. 25 and March 25, he said, making 18 arrests. They busted several teams on March 3 and March 4, some of whom were arrested as they were leaving a burglary, he said.
The last burglary occurred March 25 in Whitestone. Since then, Hall noted that robberies had dipped 36 percent around the 109th Precinct in Flushing and Whitestone.
Burglaries jumped 15 percent in 2003 from the previous year in the 111th Precinct, which covers Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Oakland Gardens, and part of Auburndale, crime statistics showed.
Hall described one incident in northeast Queens – he did not identify the specific neighborhood – in which uniformed officers pulled over a suspicious car. Its passengers were carrying walkie- talkies. Officers used bloodhounds to follow the suspects' scents to a nearby home, where they found the rear of the house broken into.
Hall said the crews operated between noon and 9 p.m., targeting vacant homes. They would stake out a mark until the owners went out and would often flee if they were spotted by neighbors or learned someone was home.
They were generally non-violent. But one confrontation with a homeowner in January turned ugly when they assaulted someone inside a house, he said. Hall would not disclose the nature of the assault or discuss it in detail.
But a 36-year-old Asian woman was raped in her home on Jan. 14 by three men who had broken into the back door of her house near the Horace Harding Expressway in Auburndale. She was sodomized while her child slept in the house, police said at the time.
The robbers made off with $300, jewelry, and a TV, authorities said.
The group had a loose hierarchy, he said, and police were still trying to determine the identities of its ring leaders. Police, however, released the names and photographs of some of its notable members Hall said were revered in the ring for their skill and experience. They are Carlos Yanes, 25; James Guiterrez, 41; and his 21-year-old son, also named James; Xiomara Llamoza, 25; and Diego Jimenez, 22.
Jimenez and Yanes, both of Jackson Heights, were arrested Jan. 2 in Auburndale after they allegedly burglarized a home near 50th Avenue on 186th Street, police said. The captain of the 111th Precinct said a neighbor called police after seeing three men break into the house through a rear window.
The three suspects had been arrested previously in connection with burglaries in the 109th, 112th, and 115th Precincts and were suspected of committing burglaries in the 105th, 107th and 111th Precincts, 111th Capt. Thomas Pilkington said at the time.
Of the other 52 Codwise crew arrested, 36 are in jail and 16 are out on bail, three of whom fled the United States and another three who jumped bail and are wanted by police, according to the Police Department.
Hall said he anticipates that more arrests will be made in the case.
“If these individuals are smart, they would find a new line of work and leave the city,” Hall said, “because we've got their number.”
Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.