Prosecutors say the social media platform was far more than just a hobby for Garcia. He had been using Instagram to track the whereabouts of his wealthy victims and rob them as the leader of an elaborate South Florida crime ring, they allege.
Now, it seems that Instagram has caused his downfall.
Garcia, Sanchez, his 58-year-old mother and at least seven others are facing felony charges, including racketeering, conspiracy, and money laundering, authorities in Miami said at a news conference on Tuesday.
A series of digital clues left behind on the photo-sharing platform allowed prosecutors to track down the alleged thieves, who at times posted pictures of themselves with stolen goods or in the very clothes they wore while robbing the mansions and penthouses of Miami’s elite.
“They used social media to find victims. We used social media to find them,” said Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the state attorney for Miami-Dade County, adding that the ring was “very arrogant and bold and brash” in its alleged crimes.
Garcia already had several run-ins with the law. In 2018, as he was returning from the Bahamas to Florida on his speedboat, he was arrested on a marijuana trafficking charge and then sentenced to prison, according to WPLG. Officers monitored his regular phone calls with Maisy Valle, 37, another one of the group’s ringleaders, and learned they were growing and trafficking “large quantities” of marijuana in five houses, including at least one in Colorado.
But that was only one part of the ring’s activity, officials said in an investigation dubbed Operation Growing Pains. A cellphone confiscated by officials during Garcia’s arrest also contained evidence of burglaries committed by the crime ring, ABC News reported, and showed that members had been targeting competing marijuana growers, as well as others they thought might have access to high-price items.
The ring used Instagram and other social media sites to track their potential victims, looking for posts that showed off expensive vacations and luxury purchases, prosecutors said. Garcia and his associates also hid GPS monitors on their victims’ cars to track their whereabouts and identify when they were out of town.
“The way this group worked was very much like seasoned police investigators,” Fernandez Rundle said. “This group would collect, synthesize and disseminate information on their potential targets from a variety of sources.”
In total, the ring completed six alleged burglaries, she said, stealing an average of $100,000 in cash, jewelry or other goods, and planning another three thefts. The group was also looking to target New York Yankees pitcher Aroldis Chapman, monitoring the player’s Davie, Fla., house with satellite imagery and dispatching groups to film the residence in person.
The alleged thieves were not shy about boasting online about the heists they said they carried out. On Instagram, Sanchez posted a photo of herself wearing Rolex watches and a diamond pendant that her boyfriend had stolen during one of the heists, according to WPLG.
When the ring allegedly stole a safe full of jewelry from a penthouse apartment in the upscale Coconut Grove neighborhood, police released surveillance video of a man in a dark hoodie during the incident. Days later, Garcia’s friend Daniel Pacheco posted a photo on Instagram of himself in the same outfit, the hood shielding his head from view.
“No Face; No Case,” Pacheco allegedly wrote alongside the photo, according to the Herald.
UPDATED: One suspect posted a pic of himself on Instagram wearing a hoodie over his head, carrying a bag with the caption: “No face, no case.” Cops found surveillance footage of the suspect wearing the same style hooded sweatshirt https://t.co/NmkHeohG4V pic.twitter.com/FdTagxTlif— David Ovalle (@DavidOvalle305) February 18, 2020
All 10 suspects are in a Miami jail awaiting trial, WSVN reported. Garcia was already awaiting jail on separate charges related to stealing jewelry.
Authorities said that on the day of Super Bowl LIV in Miami earlier this month, the ringleader broke into the South Beach hotel room of a famous jeweler and stole a safe full of his custom-made creations, valued between $1.3 million and $1.7 million, WPLG reported. Police say they busted Garcia when they learned he was trying to sell one of those rings at a jewelry marketplace in downtown Miami.