Between $100,000 and $300,000 worth of silver, jewels, furs and antique china stolen from area homes by the so-called Silver Gang has been recovered in a predawn raid at the Oxon Hall home of a Bolivian born businessman, Montgomery and Prince George's county police reported yesterday.
The raid and the arrest early Monday morning of 41-year old Edwin C. Loureiro represents a major break through in the 2-year-old investigation of major burglaries in the area, a Montgomery County police spokesman said yesterday.
The discriminating thieves, who have become known as the "Silver Gang," had concentrated their efforts in the wealthiest sections of Fairfax and Montgomery counties, stripping houses of the finest silver, jewels, and china while leaving silverplate and costume jewelry behind.
The group of thieves - as many as 20 to 30 may be involved, police say - are suspecter of operating not only in the metropolitan area, but in other wealthy mid-East Coast suburbs, as far north as Philadelphia and as far south as central Virginia.
Loureiro was charged by Prince George's County police with receiving stolen property. He was released on $180,000 bond.
At his home on Oxon Hill Road yesterday, Loureiro said he bought - for a total of $600 - some boxes of silver and other items from men he believed were thieves, but he said that at the same time as he bought the material he tried to contact District of Columbia police in an effort to see that the goods were returned to their rightful owners.
"This is a frame up," the short, compact Loureira said, standing outside his brick ranch house. He also claimed that much of the material confiscated by police belonged to him and his wife.
Police in Montgomery County and Washington confirmed last night that Loureira had contacted one police officer, but one source in volved with the case said that at no time did Loureira make any offer to turn over to police the boxes full of silver, jewels, antique pistols and china, which Loureira said he had stored in a closed of his home.
Loureira said last night that the items he had stored in a closet off his office were not worth much. "I come from a place where silver is simply as cheap as filth," he exclaimed. "We don't like it - you have to clean it again and again and again.
Montgomery County police, however, said that the most conservative value of the items recovered from the Loureira home would be $106,099. "The silver has been identified," a county police spokesman said yesterday, adding that Montgomery County police investigators believe much of it is the same silver stolen in 14 separate burglaries of Montgomery County homes.
The breakthrough in the investigation came, the spokesman said, is a result of "information developed from several sources."
According to several sources close to the investigation, the arrest of Loureiro and the confiscation of the valuables were to have remained a secret until numerous other arrests - presumably of the actual burglars - could be made.
However, as word started leaking to several television stations and decided to release the information on the Loureiro raid.
"This may have blown the whole thing," one police source said yesterday.
"We anticipate that further arrest will be made," County police spokesman Cpl. Phillip Caswell said at an impromptu press conference in his office yesterday. Thus far, he added, "We haven't been able to apprehend the other people involved in the burglaries."
Caswell said that he did not know if the valuables recovered from Loureiro's home represented the major portion of what was stolen or only a small fraction of the total haul.The goods are being stored in the Prince George's County police property warehouse in Upper Malboro, he added.
Over the past two years, there have been about 200 area burglaries in which silver was the chief item taken, Caswell said yesterday. While it was not clear whether all 200 crimes could be attributed to the so-called Silver Gang, Caswell said that the method of operation used during the thefts was similar.
Earlier police accounts of the gang's work indicated that the thieves, stake out likely homes, plan escape routes, monitor police radio scanners and operate with their own citizen's band radios.