Princeton Borough Police followed silently for more than two hours the night of Oct. 19 as three individuals allegedly cased several homes before being arrested and charged in connection with at least 10 burglaries in the borough, the township and on the campus of Princeton University.
All three suspects are undocumented illegal aliens, and evidence has linked all three with the MS-13 street gang, police said, in announcing the arrests this week.
Saul Eduardo Palma-Chajon, 22, whose last known address was in Princeton, and Byron Diaz, 18, of Princeton, and a 16-year-old male Princeton resident were charged with numerous counts of burglary, theft and criminal mischief as well as conspiracy to commit burglary, receiving stolen property and being armed while committing a burglary.
Mr. Palma-Chajon and Mr. Diaz were also charged with employing a juvenile in a crime, and the juvenile was also charged with juvenile delinquency.
Police said the series of residential burglaries over the last several weeks involved homes being entered with the use of force during the late afternoon or evening hours.
Once inside, the suspects stole merchandise, including jewelry, laptop computers, cameras, iPods and credit cards.
Princeton Borough Chief Anthony Federico said two burglaries in the borough occurred on Gordon Way, and two occurred on Hamilton and Vandeventer avenues, respectively.
At least one of the two burglaries in the township occurred on Deer Path, and at least three more occurred on the university campus, he said.
Although much of the stolen items have been recovered and claimed by the victims, a substantial amount of stolen merchandise has not yet been linked to any victim, and police are still determining how many burglaries occurred, Chief Federico said.
As part of the investigation, a team of officers engaged in a burglary surveillance detail on the east end of the borough on Oct. 19, a Friday night.
At 8:30 p.m., officers began to observe the group of three males acting suspiciously near Hamilton Avenue, before they entered yards on a number of properties and walked around to allegedly “case” the homes, police said.
For the next two hours, the surveillance unit followed the group while they continued to enter yards in the northeast and southeast sections of town and occasionally split up, police said.
Although they did not attempt to break into a house, the group was stopped by police at 10:30 p.m.
Two of the three individuals gave police fake names and identification, police said.
Further investigation revealed that all three individuals possessed property that had been reported stolen from recent burglaries, police said.
Subsequent residential searches in the borough yielded stolen items from at least eight different recently reported burglaries and thefts in the borough, the township and on the university campus.
Borough police have notified Immigration Customs Enforcement to advise the agency of the arrests of the individuals, all of whom are from Guatemala.
Charges are also pending within Princeton Township and within the Princeton University Campus.
Mr. Palma-Chajon’s bail has been set at $1,000,000 cash, and Mr. Diaz’ bail has been set at $500,000 cash.
The juvenile is being held at the Mercer County Youth Detention Center.
Chief Federico said it was unusual that most of the stolen property was recovered.
“Most burglars will get rid of the stuff really quickly,” he said. “It’s unusual when we get back this amount of property.”
Any victim of a recent burglary or theft in the Princeton area should call the Princeton Borough Police Detective Bureau at 609-924-4141 to view the recovered property to see if it belongs to them.