A BURGLARY gang who plundered West Midlands homes on multi-million-pound sprees from their homeland in Romania have been jailed after being linked to around 400 break-ins.
Catalin Zaharia and Constantin Stoian, both aged 30, Marian Molocia (27), Daniel Stoean (35) and 28-year-old Florina Spiru – Zaharia’s wife – targeted properties in affluent areas on the hunt for cash and jewellery, including in Solihull borough.
They were part of a burglary gang that flew into the UK after the clocks went back to hit homes in the cover of darkness between November and January before flying back to Romania in the New Year with their loot, police said.
It’s believed they struck at hundreds of homes in the West Midlands and into parts of West Mercia, Staffordshire and Gloucestershire between 2014 and December 10 last year when West Midlands Police swooped to arrest the group.
CCTV rshows Zaharia – the group’s ringleader – clambering up a bed sheet thrown by Molocia from a first floor window of a home in Castle Bromwich on January 15, 2017.
More security camera footage shows the pair with torch-lights rummaging through a family home in Shirley on January 8 last year before fleeing with property.
It’s estimated the thieves stole cash and valuables, often designer watches worth up to £30,000 each and Asian gold items, totalling several million pounds over four years.
Detectives identified Zaharia as orchestrating the conspiracy who, along with partner Spiru, recruited several fellow Romanian nationals to join their gang on repeated trips to the UK.
They made a breakthrough on September 24 last year when traffic cops monitoring an uninsured car on the M6 watched as a bag containing jewellery, stolen from a home in Solihull, was thrown from a window.
Zaharia was arrested from the vehicle and his DNA taken.
And that forensic profile was later matched to a blood stain found at a burglary in Solihull and, as investigators probed potential links with other burglaries, scrutiny of CCTV at more break-ins revealed Zaharia as the likely offender.
The 30-year-old’s travel history was also examined and officers found he’d entered and left the UK more than 30 times over three years in company with co-conspirators, including landing at Luton Airport on a 17 October flight last year.
Police intelligence linked Zaharia to an address in McKean Road, Oldbury, and on December 10 cops executed a warrant at the house where all five were detained.
A large amount of cash and stolen jewellery was also recovered – including £20,000 in Spiru’s handbag – alongside burglary ‘paraphernalia’ including several pairs of rubber grip gloves and tools.
All five initially denied involvement but police linked Molocia, Stoean and Stoian to 13 offences by blood or fingerprints left at a scene.
Spiru was not actively involved in the break-ins but instead acted as group ‘admin’ and helped launder the proceeds of their crimes.
Examination of her mobile phone revealed photos showing her and Zaharia enjoying the trappings of their criminal enterprise. One image shows her flaunting wads of cash on a bed and another of them driving a top-of-the-range BMW M3 Sport.
They entered guilty pleas at Birmingham Crown Court on Tuesday (October 1) and all were jailed.
Ringleader Zaharia was jailed for eight years and partner Spiru for four-and-a-half years. Molocia was handed a sixyears and four-month sentence, Stoian imprisoned for four-and-a-half years and Stoen four-years.
West Midlands Police Sergeants Sam Altaf and Sandy Thompson led the investigation.
Sgt Thompson said: “This group has been responsible for untold heartache, worry and inconvenience among hundreds of residents across the region. It’s one of the biggest burglary conspiracies we’ve ever seen in the West Midlands.
“We’ve linked them directly to 100 burglaries where £65,000 and property valued at £800,000 was taken – but we suspect they’ve committed far more offences and taken cash and valuables worth millions of pounds. Four or five hundred is a conservative estimate.
“They were ruthlessly organised: they would scope out homes in affluent areas, wait till nightfall and strike at addresses with the lights off that appeared unoccupied. They always broke in via first floor windows to avoid alarm sensors on the ground floor, to get straight into bedrooms where valuables were likely to be kept and even took jewellery testing kits with them to test the purity of gold items at the scene.
“The group made regular money transfers to family members back home via Oldbury post office and other outlets. We also found lots of photos showing friends and family in Romania posing in expensive jewellery taken from homes in our communities.
“This was a challenging investigation as none of the five were on the radar of law enforcement in the UK until Zaharia was arrested in autumn 2017. That helped us link him to several burglaries and begin to understand the extent of the burglary conspiracy and the others involved.
“We suspect other people from Romania were also involved in the plot and we are working with the Romania authorities in a bid to bring others to justice.”
Partners in crime: husband and wife thieves Catalin Zaharia and Florina Spiru
Spiru and Zaharia pictured at an event wearing suspected stolen jewellery, while Spiru flaunts stolen cash
Cash, jewellery and their ‘burglary kit’ were found at their home address
Co-conspirators Constantin Stoian, Daniel Stoen and Marian Molocia have also been jailed for house raids