INDIANAPOLIS – When Indianapolis Metropolitan police arrested an attempted burglary suspect in December 2022, it seemed like a routine case.
The man, identified as “Patricio Escobar” with a 1987 birthdate on an ID card purportedly issued out of Argentina, was charged with attempted burglary and resisting law enforcement. He was accused of trying to steal from an Indianapolis jewelry store on Dec. 9, 2022; police found him inside a nearby laundromat after he tried to get away.
But the man police detained in Indianapolis wasn’t some inexperienced thief trying to score from a local jewelry store. In fact, his name wasn’t even “Patricio Escobar” at all.
Federal authorities said his real name is Sebastian Marcelo Orlando Briones Tapia, a Chilean citizen who’d been admitted to the U.S. in February 2021.
Police from multiple jurisdictions had been looking for him in connection with at least seven notable burglaries from Pennsylvania to California, a cross-country crime spree targeting electronics stores around the country.
The thefts involved more than a $1 million in merchandise, according to court documents filed in federal court in Wisconsin. The burglaries spanned from May 2021 to August 2021.
The methods for each theft were similar: Briones Tapia and his accomplices would visit a store a few hours before closing time, neutralize a motion detector above an emergency exit door and return hours later in a rented van. In most cases, they cut a hole in the emergency exit door to get into the business.
Once inside, he and an accomplice—and sometimes multiple accomplices—would enter with large black plastic trash bags and fill them with electronics, usually spending about an hour inside the store before taking off, according to federal investigators.
Federal investigators said Briones Tapia and his crew almost got caught a few times when accidentally tripping burglary alarms, which happened during a June 15 theft in Charlottesville, Virginia. But it was a fateful night in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, that ultimately provided investigators with their best evidence.
During that Aug. 8 burglary, Briones Tapia and his accomplices set off a burglary alarm. Police arrived before they could take anything from the store; Briones Tapia and the others sped off in their van. Police terminated their pursuit after just a few minutes as the van went into oncoming traffic.
Police later found the abandoned van, still running, in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. They recovered electronics, a vehicle rental agreement and other documents—as well as DNA evidence and fingerprints.
Those fingerprints matched the ones police took from Briones Tapia during his arrest in Indianapolis in December 2022, linking him to the nationwide crime spree.
The investigation spanned multiple states and involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as several different local and state police departments.
Here’s a look at the thefts in which he’s suspected.
May 21, 2021
- Vallejo, California
- $132,000 in merchandise stolen
At 9:14 p.m., someone cut a hole in an emergency exit door using a reciprocating saw. The business was closed at the time. At 9:49 p.m., a silver Dodge van showed up; men entered the store and took $132,000 in merchandise after filling black trash bags with electronics.
Surveillance footage showed they had “cased” the store hours before, entering the location during business hours. One of the suspects tampered with the motion detector over the emergency exit door, spraying a glue-like or gel substance over the device to neutralize it. They later cut through the door to gain entry.
June 15 and June 16
- Charlottesville, Virginia
- $75,000 in merchandise stolen, alarm tripped
Someone cut a square hole cut through a metal door and later tripped the alarm. No one was inside when police arrived around 12:45 a.m. on June 16.
Around 10 p.m. the night before (June 15), a white van pulled up to the store. The perpetrators used trash cans to conceal their faces from security cameras while they cut a hole in the door.
At 11:08 p.m., they entered the store with bolt cutters and took various electronics, again stashing them in bags. They took about $75,000 in items before triggering an alarm and leaving before police arrived.
They had been at the store earlier in the day, when one of the suspects again neutralized the motion detector above the door that they later used to gain access.
June 29, 2021
- Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
- $178,000 in merchandise stolen
A white van pulled up to the store around 10:30 p.m. A man got out and cut a hole in an exterior access door. At 11:15 p.m., two people entered the store through the hole. They stacked boxes to reach inventory high on shelves, with one subject handing the items to the other on the floor.
They placed the merchandise into black trash bags and took about $178,000 in merchandise.
The men had again been at the store earlier during business hours, at which time they’d neutralized a motion detector. Surveillance footage showed one of them entered the bathroom, came back out wearing latex gloves and tried to disable the motion detector. It was too high, however, and the other individual gave him a boost so he could reach it.
July 10, 2021
- Holland, Michigan
- $122,000 in merchandise stolen
A white van pulled up to the store at 8:48 p.m. and backed up to a rear access door. The suspects used tools to cut the back door open. The van departed at 9:07 p.m. and returned around 9:25 p.m.
Three men entered and took items from the business. They entered and exited in phases in an apparent attempt to prevent any alarms from being triggered. They left at 10:33 p.m. with about $122,000 in merchandise.
About three hours before the thefts, they’d visited the store and made their way to the back corner. They again used a gel-like substance to disable the motion detector above the door.
July 21, 2021
- Greenfield, Wisconsin
- $318,000 in merchandise stolen, alarm tripped
Police arrived around 10:57 p.m. after someone tripped a burglary alarm. An exterior door on the east side of the business had a square hole cut into it. No one was inside.
Investigators found a large security cage in the back had been breached. They discovered a bag containing power tools and a large pry bar on the floor.
Surveillance video showed a white van had arrived around 9:35 p.m., when the burglars cut a hole in the door. They entered the store, loaded items into large black garbage backs and left at 10:55 p.m. with $318,000 in merchandise.
Two of the men visited the store earlier in the day. Surveillance cameras caught them on video at 6:36 p.m. One of the men hefted a large TV box over his shoulder to obscure their activities as the other man tampered with a motion sensor above the door that they later used to gain entry after hours.
Police recovered a disposable cup one of the men tossed into bushes in front of the store, along with a pair of rubber gloves coated with a gel or glue-like substance.
Aug. 8, 2021
- Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin
- No merchandise stolen, alarm tripped leading to police chase
At 8:32 p.m., officers were dispatched to a story for a burglary in progress. Officers saw a white Ford van with no visible registration or hubcaps parked behind the building. Someone was near store’s back emergency exit.
Upon realizing they’d been spotted, multiple individuals got into the van, which took off. Items fell out of the vehicle as police pursued. Police terminated the chase after about two minutes after the van drove into oncoming traffic.
Police recovered multiple tools, a power saw and large black garbage bags along the van’s route.
Surveillance footage showed the van backing up to the emergency exit at 7:57 p.m. Two men cut a hole in the door and entered the store at 8:34 p.m. They didn’t get away with any merchandise, as their lookout alerted them to the arrival of police, sending them scrambling back to the van to escape.
The men had visited the store around 6 p.m. earlier that day. While the angle of the surveillance cameras didn’t allow police to see them disable the motion detector, a gel or glue-like substance had again been applied to neutralize it.
Aug. 9, 2021
- Kenosha County, Wisconsin
- Abandoned van found
Police found the abandoned van around 4:35 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2021, in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. The engine was still running. Police recovered clothing, cell phones, a license plate and rental paperwork from inside and towed the vehicle for further processing.
The van’s VIN and license placed were listed to a business in Van Nuys, California. It had been rented around May 26, 2021, by an “Orlando Briones Tapia.” Paperwork inside the van included the names “Camilio Briones” and “Orlando Briones.”
Police located U.S. Postal Service Customs Declarations forms for shipments sent from Flushing, New York, to locations in Chile in late July and early August.
Investigators recovered a size ten shoe from the van, which matched a shoe discovered along the pursuit route. They also obtained three latent fingerprint impressions and DNA from the van. The prints and DNA were submitted to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory for further analysis.
DNA found during the Mount Pleasant investigation matched a DNA profile obtained during the investigation into the June 29 burglary in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, investigators said.
Aug. 28, 2021
- Springfield, Oregon
- $177,000 in merchandise stolen
Suspects cut a hole in an emergency exit door and entered the store at 10:04 p.m. A heavyset man used power tools to access a secure cage. Burglars put merchandise into black bags and got away with about $177,000 in stolen inventory.
A silver van with no registration plates was parked in the store’s vicinity.
Earlier in the day, two men entered the store so they could again disable the motion detector above the emergency door with a gel or glue-like substance.
Dec. 9, 2022
- Indianapolis, Indiana
- Suspect linked to cross-country burglary spree
On Dec. 9, 2022, police in Indianapolis were dispatched to a jewelry store for a possible burglary. Officers saw a heavyset man wearing dark clothing in an alley behind the business. He ran away, but police located him at a nearby laundromat.
He was initially identified as “Patricio Escobar,” based on an ID card purportedly issued by the Argentine Republic. The man was charged with attempted burglary and resisting law enforcement. Police took his fingerprints as part of the booking process.
The fingerprints came back as a match to those found during the burglary and chase in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, on Aug. 8, 2021, matching the left thumb, right thumb and right ring finger of “Patricio Escobar.”
Further investigation identified the man as Sebastian Marcelo Orlando Briones Tapia, a Chilean citizen who’d been admitted to the U.S. in February 2021 on a Chilean passport. His fingerprints were taken upon entry into the country; those records also matched the prints taken in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, and Indianapolis, Indiana.
Briones Tapia left the U.S. for Panama on Sept. 23, 2021, having overstayed his authorized entry into the U.S. That partially explains the gap between the August 2021 burglary in Oregon and his arrest in Indianapolis in December 2022.
He reentered the United States in June 2022, crossing the border near Laredo, Texas, according to court documents. He is currently in custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).