DALWORTHINGTON GARDENS — The discovery of a hidden camera may help solve a series of break-ins at upscale homes in several North Texas cities.
"This one has already been camouflaged," said detective Ben Singleton, holding what looks like a piece of bark that would go unnoticed in most yards.
It's actually a video camera not much bigger than a matchbox, and it's activated by a motion detector. Such cameras turned up in March planted outside several upscale homes in Dalworthington Gardens.
"I've never seen anything like this. And most detectives in this area haven't," Singleton said.
Earlier this month, John Anton discovered the first one near his driveway.
"I had no idea what it was," Anton said. "Very strange."
He took the device to Dalworthington Gardens police.
"We tore one of these apart to figure out what it was all about," Singleton said.
The detective said it turned out to be surveillance for a long-running, sophisticated burglary scheme. But at first, police feared it might even be a kidnapping plot to take a wealthy person captive.
Police set up counter-surveillance. They were waiting the next night on Wooded Creek Circle when a man returned to pick up the camera.
"It's very scary," Anton said. "Something where you feel very violated."
Anton's wife and daughter stayed away from the home. John Anton said he stayed inside with a shotgun while police staked out the street.
Shortly after midnight, they caught 21-year-old Cain Santoyo. Search warrants on his car and Grand Prairie home revealed evidence including lock-picking tools, police scanners, a disguise, a combination flashlight/stun gun, and a total of nine cameras loaded with surveillance video.
Officers also seized computer data and a motion detector rigged to a small radio transmitter. Singleton said that could be used to alert a burglar inside a house, giving them time to get away.
Inside Santoyo's house, police said they found jewelry hidden in an attic crawlspace.
"He had a large bag that was stuffed full of jewelry," Singleton said.
Detectives believe Cain Santoyo targeted million dollar homes in Highland Park, Colleyville, Arlington and Grand Prairie. Dalworthington Gardens investigators are comparing notes with detectives from other agencies.
But they think that almost everything that was stolen has already been sold on the Internet. They say they won't know the extent of the damage until they get responses on subpoenas issued to several online sites.
Police expect multiple burglary charges to be filed. For now, Santoyo is held on a charge of unlawful interception, use, or disclosure of wire, oral or electronic communications.
Singleton said it's illegal to record audio and video of two parties who are not aware they are being recorded.