Orange County FL May 12 2017 Two quick-thinking Laguna Woods residents and Village security officers aided the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in arresting a man posing as a maintenance worker to get inside homes and burglarize them, on Saturday, April 29.
Aaron Thrasher, 28, of Mission Viejo was booked on felony and misdemeanor charges including burglary, possession of burglary tools and property theft of the elderly, the Sheriff’s Department reported. He appeared in court on Tuesday, May 9, originally facing 11 charges with 10 dropped, and pleaded guilty to one felony count for burglary.
Thrasher was sentenced to 364 days in jail, five years of formal probation and restitution, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
Residents Sharon Scott and Anita Gosch individually made calls to security that led to Thrasher’s arrest. They will receive a commendation for their efforts by Village Management Services at the Third Mutual board meeting on Tuesday, May 16.
Gosch said she called security around 5 p.m. Saturday with concerns of a suspicious man at her manor who said he wanted to clean her air conditioner.
“The fellow said he worked for the city of Laguna Woods and they were sending people out to check homeowners’ air conditioning units to clean them of debris because the city of Laguna Woods wants homeowners to save a little money on their air conditioning costs,” Gosch said. “I said ‘The city of Laguna Woods employees are working on a Saturday evening? That’s not likely.’ So that was suspicious right there.”
Gosch said she asked the man for his business card – which he did not have – so she asked for his work phone number or his boss’ number, and that also didn’t seem valid. After telling the man that she would call the city on Monday and have somebody come then, he left, she said.
“I called security and within moments, looking from my house, security had surrounded a black car that turned out to be (the suspect),” Gosch said. “I watched them eventually handcuff him and take him.”
Chief of Security Tim Moy said that when security rolled up, one of the supervisors had recognized him from a theft at the Towers and detained him in the area of Bahia Blanca East, between Gates 9 and 10, until the Sheriff’s Department arrived.
“He did try to flee the scene and (two) security officers physically detained him until sheriff’s deputies arrived on scene,” Moy said.
The Sheriff’s Department said Thrasher would identify himself as a city employee who needed to clean or inspect air conditioning vents. Once inside the house, he walked room to room to steal items of value, such as jewelry and checks.
A number of items that were stolen were sold at pawn shops in Orange and Los Angeles counties, investigators said. Several items were identified as having been stolen from the Laguna Woods community.
“As a part of the investigation I became aware of the individual; (the Sheriff’s Department) did let us know about it,” Moy said. “We became aware of him as well when residents reported this individual knocking on doors. As part of our follow-up we determined this individual had no legitimate reason to be in the community.”
Gosch said that the man was very friendly and it wouldn’t be hard to fool someone to let him in.
“He was wearing a shirt with his first name on it, but it didn’t look like a city of Laguna Woods shirt to me so that was another suspicious thing,” she said. “He seemed like a very nice-looking young guy, I’m sure elderly people would be prone to letting him in.”
Moy said that if anyone comes to their home as a solicitor, they should not let them in.
“If you didn’t call our administrative or maintenance department and if someone comes knocking on your door, immediately shut your door or don’t answer the door at all and contact security,” he said. “We’ll go out and verify who the person is.”
Gosch said that one of her neighbors was concerned about how the burglar made it past the gates in the first place.
“He could have been a gate runner, where he was able to flip past one of the resident lanes,” Moy said. “I’m not sure if he was able to deceive one of our ambassadors or not, but either way he was not in the computer system as being a guest.”
The Sheriff’s Department identified 10 victims of Thrasher, but believe there are more, authorities said. Investigators are also looking for the owners of items that were stolen and not claimed.
Anyone who believes they might be a victim or claim stolen property should contact OCSD investigators at 714-647-7000.