TAMPA (FOX 13) - A group of suspected thieves is in jail and being called the "Hole in the Wall Burglars" by Hillsborough County deputies because of the brazen way they're accused of breaking into businesses.
According to investigators, the group is believed to have used a sledgehammer to bust a hole in the walls of 14 businesses spread out across four counties.
"What got our attention was the method of entry," said Maj. Kristi Poore, adding once the criminals were inside they went right for the alarm. "They knew how to compromise the security system, which gave them time to go through the drywall [of an interior wall]. The ones that they hit always had an adjoining business that they could profit from."
Detectives began connecting the crimes about six months ago and eventually determined the first burglary committed by this group appears to have been in February 2017.
Late last year, Tampa Bay Outfitters was also hit.
"It's demoralizing. You work hard, you're trying to sell, you're trying to do the right thing and then all of a sudden someone comes in and takes these products," said Raymond Grau, a manager at the business, who added the thieves stole about $600,000 in high-end fishing gear. "It is personal because we work here. We spend more of our time here than our own homes."
In September of this year, Polk County deputies were watching members of the group as they broke into a business in Frostproof. That's when authorities moved in and made arrests.
So far, detectives have taken into custody Alex Espinosa, Michel Rodriguez, Yanet Fernandez and Jorge and Remberto Gonzalez. A sixth suspect, Leandro Leyva, is still on the loose.
Investigators said the group has stolen a variety of items including liquor, tires, jewelry and expensive boating equipment. Most of the items have not been recovered and are believed to have been sold.
"These type of crimes can escalate, so the detectives and the analysts and everybody involved did agreat job putting the pieces together," said Poore, who told reporters the damage to businesses is estimated to be in excess of $800,000.
Anyone who knows where Leyva is should contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.