ST. CHARLES, Mo. – News first broke last month about the St. Charles arrest of Romanian jewel thieves, but newly released court documents explain the magnitude of the organized crime operation. The court documents also offered a few surprises involving the group that was hiding in plain sight.

It’s hard to believe the ring settled on St. Charles, specifically North 3rd Street, in a short-term rental. The operation is believed to be on such a massive scale that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is involved. Before the bust, police warned people around the country about a group of young Romanians targeting small towns. The men and women range in age from their late 20s to early 30s. One of their reported targets was Miramar Beach, Florida, where they reportedly got away with more than $1 million in jewelry in December 2022.

At the end of April, the suspects drove to St. Charles, where they reportedly rented the home on North 3rd Street. Court records indicated seven suspects identified as Romanians are confirmed members of the Balkan Network, a fragmented organization of thousands that the FBI recognized about a decade ago as “the new face of organized crime.”

“Upon reviewing the BOLO, we knew that we needed to get on this as soon as possible because we felt our community was going to be targeted,” said Capt. Ray Floyd for the St. Charles Police Department.

St. Charles police got a tip from a Florida investigator that a suspect’s phone was pinging off of a cell phone tower in the area.

“The information we had was fairly general,” Floyd said. “We knew they were somewhere between I-70 and 370 and could have even stretched over into Maryland Heights.”

A St. Charles police patrolman had the foresight to check short-term rentals, finding three on North 3rd. Then he noticed two vans with out-of-state tags parked in front of the home in question.

“We had officers set in all kinds of areas surrounding the house so we could see it from all angles,” Floyd said.

When they entered with a search warrant, officers took pictures of possible stolen jewelry as well as a stack of cash that added up to more than $10,000.

U.S. Homeland Security had been tracking the group through a combination of photos and DNA, which the suspects left as they touched surfaces in the stores they visited.

Other towns reportedly targeted were Vail, Colorado, and Jackson, Wyoming, where one stolen Yacht-Master Rolex watch alone was worth $28,500. Other states reportedly hit include Nebraska, Oklahoma, Idaho, Arkansas, Illinois, North Carolina, and Texas.

“If that bust wouldn’t have been made on that day, as quick as it was,” Floyd said. “I’m 100% certain that our community would have been victimized by these same individuals by this same type of crime.”

Neighbor Tom Hacker said nothing stood out about the people in the rental across the street.

“There wasn’t any going in and out a lot, or anything like that, that would make you think that kind of criminal behavior,” he said.

Court records said the group consisted of three women and four men.

“I did see Florida plates on the vehicle, but that’s not unusual when you have short-term rentals in the area,” Hacker said.

One of the suspects is identified in court records as 27-year-old Vasile Lacatus, who reportedly rented the home in his own name.

The suspects remain in the St. Charles County jail as they await possible extradition to the many areas in which they’re wanted. One of the suspects is a fugitive from Romania on Interpol’s wanted list.