A Virginia horse breeder and an Arlington businessman have been arrested with three other persons by Loudoun County detectives probing a suspected $1 million burglary ring that allegedly struck dozens of wealthy estates in Virginia's hunt country.
Law enforcement officials said yesterday the suspects are believed to be among several members of a loose-knit group allegedly implicated in recent months in about 200 break-ins stretching from the Washington suburbs to the horse farms of Fauquier, Culpeper and Orange counties.
All five arrested by Loudoun investigators also have been charged in a June 16 break-in at the 25-acre home of businessman John H. Crowe Jr. in northern Loudoun County during which Crowe and one of the suspects were shot and seriously wounded.
Police in Loudoun and Fairfax said the suspected ring involved as many as 25 people, 12 of whom now face robbery and burglary charges in various Virginia jurisdictions. Authorities said they have arrest warrants for several of the remaining suspects.
According to law enforcement officers, hundreds of area homes and businesses were targeted for break-ins by the group's two suspected ringleaders -- Christine Owens and Bent Pederson -- who allegedly used burglars recruited by middle-level intermediaries.
Fairfax police said items stolen included jewelry, gold, silver, tractors, lumber, a $47,000 antique Waterford crystal chandelier, travelers' checks, a truckload of cigarettes, a grader and log splitters.
"It was a real Dixie mafia, with division of labor and division of the proceeds," said Fairfax investigator Guy Morgan.
Loudoun sheriff's investigators, acting on information provided by Fairfax police, last Friday night arrested Owens, 53, a prominent horse breeder in Nokesville in Prince William County, and Pederson, 41, owner of Arlex Exxon in Fairlington.
Owens has been indicted on breaking and entering, grand larceny and conspiracy charges. Pederson faces charges of breaking and entering, abduction, robbery, malicious wounding, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, wearing a mask while on private property and two counts of conspiracy.
Pederson also faces an attempted robbery charge in connection with an earlier, unsuccessful break-in attempt at Crowe's home, police said.
Pederson, Owens and two others were arrested earlier this month by Fairfax police and charged with similar robbery or burglary counts growing out of an April 13 robbery at the home of Helga Schweikert in Springfield. Fairfax police spokesman Warren Carmichael said yesterday that Owens and Schweikert had been friends.
Police said they first suspected the existence of the ring after Fairfax detectives succeeded in tracing an empty pizza box left by the robbers at Schweikert's home to an unidentified suspect who agreed to cooperate with authorities.
Leads provided by the informant were forwarded to Loudoun investigators, who simultaneously were probing the Crowe robbery and shooting. On July 23, authorities arrested Sammee Garvin, 28, at Howard University Hospital where he was recuperating from three gunshot wounds inflicted the same night Crowe was shot.
Also arrested on July 23 was Thomas Junior Wright, 8201 Riverside Dr., in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County. Loudoun investigators said Wright became a suspect after he allegedly sold a silver candelabra carrying Crowe's identifying mark.
Fairfax spokesman Carmichael said yesterday Wright also has been charged with five counts of burglary in Fairfax and a single armed robbery in Orange County, Va.