The burglary of an Annapolis supermarket appears to be linked to a safecracking gang of illegal aliens from Albania and the former Yugoslavia that law enforcement officials say may have engineered some 200 grocery store break-ins on the East Coast.
The burglary at the Magruder's store in the 2100 block of Solomons Island Road fits the pattern attributed to the group, said Capt. Michael Fitzgibbons, head of the Anne Arundel County police Criminal Investigations Division.
Police were called to the store in the Parole Plaza Shopping Center about 2:15 a.m. because the burglar alarm was sounding, but they found nothing amiss. The thieves, apparently hiding nearby, scrambled onto the roof after police left and punched a hole in it.
Once inside, they used tools to open the safe and took only cash. They left behind their tools and gloves when they escaped at 4:35 a.m., setting off a second alarm as they went through the door.
Police were notified of the burglary when an employee arrived at work at 5:15 a.m. and discovered the safe open. Captain Fitzgibbons would not say how much money was taken.
He said about six thieves participate in each theft. Three go into the store while the others serve as lookouts, he said.
In some incidents, the thieves try to get employees to set off the burglar alarm by calling the store, identifying themselves as being from the alarm company and asking employees to check their doors.
"This is nontraditional organized crime," Captain Fitzgibbons said. "Traditional organized crime is usually the Mafia. While this is very organized, it is not the Mafia."
The group, which Captain Fitzgibbons said has burglarized a total of eight stores in Anne Arundel, Calvert, St. Mary's, Harford and Baltimore counties, also is thought to be responsible for burglaries from Vermont to Northern Virginia and to have stolen up to $4 million dollars in the last 2 1/2 years.
In addition, there have been 10 to 15 attempted thefts from grocery stores in Maryland during the past 60 days, Captain Fitzgibbons said.
Law enforcement officials said the group began about two years ago in the New York area and, although some members have been caught, has begun to move south.
"They don't care if the store is occupied at the time," Captain Fitzgibbons said. "They will still go in and hold anyone there until they bash the safe open."
The thieves have been armed during some of the break-ins, he said.