Four Texas residents were arrested in connection with a string of nearly half a dozen armed home invasions targeting families of Asian-Indian descent in one New Jersey county, officials said.
Chaka Castro, 39, Juan Olaya, 34, Octavius Scott, 22, and Johnisha Williams, 19, were all taken into custody in their home state last week, prosecutors said. It wasn't clear when they would be extradited to New Jersey. All were being held on $1.25 million bail and attorney information wasn't available.
The arrests stem from a months-long investigation into targeted armed robberies at five homes in three Middlesex County communities. In each robbery, families were tied up with duct tape and robbed of cash and jewelry. The pattern dates back to Oct. 20, when a home was hit in Old Bridge. Families were later targeted in South Plainfield and Edison.
Castro allegedly targeted the homes and directed her co-defendants to break in, tie up the families, steal jewelry and other items and smash the families' cellphones so they couldn't call for help. Scott and Olaya allegedly entered the homes, armed with at least one gun, while Williams, in all but one case, is accused of waiting outside and driving the getaway car, prosecutors said.
None of the victims were seriously injured in the robberies.
One woman whose family was attacked said robbers waved guns in front of her 4-year-old and 6-year-old sons. In another case, the home's owner said his wife was taking out the garbage when the invaders attacked. He and his wife were then tied up along with their three children.
One victim, Rajesh Singh, said he pleaded with the intruders not to harm his family.
"I just said, 'Take what you want, just don't hurt anybody,'" Singh said.
The first four home invasions were in a period of 10 days. The most recent one in the pattern was Saturday.
Residents say similar armed robberies over the last decade have coincided with the time around the Hindu holiday of Diwali, when gold jewelry is frequently given as a gift.
Peter Kothari, president of the Indo-American Cultural Society in Edison and a community activist, said the arrests marked "a great relief."
Last month, a standing room crowd angry about the wave of targeted home invasions demanded more police and neighborhood surveillance cameras at a public safety forum in Edison.
Residents say the armed robberies have occurred for a decade timed around the Hindu holiday of Diwali, when gold jewelry is frequently given as a gift.
Police created a task force of Edison, South Plainfield, and Old Bridge police, along with detectives from the Middlesex County prosecutor's office, state police and the FBI to work on the case. It wasn't clear what led them to the crew in Texas.
Castro was charged with five counts of conspiracy to commit robbery — one for each of the home invasions — among other crimes. The other suspects were charged with a series of counts arising from the break-ins, including kidnapping, robbery, aggravating assault and making terroristic threats.