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    Friday, January 23, 2009

    CNN - 'Hillside Burglar' suspect held; L.A.'s rich relieved

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    'Hillside Burglar' suspect held; L.A.'s rich relieved

    For three years, the thieves crept into some of the poshest homes in the most exclusive enclaves in the nation.

    Police said they finally have a break in the case, and wealthy residents of Los Angeles, California, are breathing a sigh of relief.

    "These guys were real good," said L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss, who oversees Bel Air where some of the burglaries were committed. "They were professionals."

    The thieves hauled away more than $10 million worth of valuables and cash from 150 homes in upscale neighborhoods such as Bel Air, Pacific Palisades and Beverly Hills, police said.

    Homes of Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and multimillionaires were hit. According to CNN affiliate KABC, country music stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing were among the victims.

    DNA evidence led the LAPD to suspected ringleader Troy Corsby Thomas, 45, of Los Angeles. He was arrested near L.A. International Airport last weekend.

    Police say Thomas led a gang dubbed the "Hillside Burglars" that targeted the neighborhoods overlooking Sunset Boulevard.

    "It's a very euphoric, satisfying feeling that we got this person," said the police Lt. David McGill. "It's a very frustrating feeling to tell the victims, 'I'm sorry I don't have any news for you.' Finally when we got some good detective work and breaks, things started lining up."

    Police are looking for more suspects linked to the three-year spree but are not naming them.

    Thomas is being held on $2 million bail, according to the L.A. County District Attorney's Office. He is likely to stay in custody because he must reveal the origin of any funds used to pay the bail, authorities said.

    At a court appearance Tuesday, Thomas pleaded not guilty to two charges of residential burglary, one in January 2006 and another in March 2008. The preliminary court date for Thomas will be set on January 29 and additional charges are expected to be filed, according to CNN affiliates KABC and KTLA.

    Police will not comment on Thomas' background. The Los Angeles Times reported that Thomas told police he had been working as an auto broker.

    The Hillside Burglars have not struck since Thomas' arrest, police said.

    "Hallelujah!" said L.A. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. "Even a crafty crook does make his mistake and that's what happened to this one."

    Some residents are cautiously optimistic.

    "We're delighted," said Robert René, president of Brentwood Homeowners Association, which represents about 800 homes. "We are very fortunate to have the due diligence of the Westside LAPD."

    Harvey I. Saferstein, president of the Bel Air Association, agreed, "We are all obviously thankful and relieved."

    The financially strapped LAPD created a Hillside Burglars task force. People donated cameras and other equipment and police stepped up patrols. The outlay amounted to "millions of dollars," Rosendahl said.

    Neighborhood watch groups formed. One in Bel Air donated $8,000 for infrared cameras that can spot burglars in the dark.

    Robert Ringler, president of the Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council, hosted a community meeting with the LAPD at the five-star Bel Air Hotel a year and a half ago. As swans swam in ponds in the background, about 150 Westside residents sipped Perrier and vented their fears.

    "It had gotten to be such an epidemic," Ringler said.

    The impressive mansions -- usually gated and hidden by walls and hedges -- dot the lush hillsides and canyons between the coast and the mountains. The qualities that make them so desirable also make them vulnerable.

    The seclusion that appeals to upscale homeowners also appeals to thieves. Because many of the homes are tucked into the sides of mountains and canyons, behind gates, it's easy for a thief to escape unseen and hard for police to get there quickly.

    "It's the perfect target," Ringler said. "You can access the property and nobody would ever see you."

    Frequently, maids, pool workers and gardeners have access to the property, which allows burglars to pass as the help and slip in unchallenged.

    According to police and media reports, the methods were sophisticated.

    Burglars waited till homeowners went on vacation or out for the night. They used lawn furniture and ladders to creep into the second floor, which often lacked alarms. They quickly went in, looked for jewelry, safes and cash, and ducked out with the goods.

    They never attacked any of the homeowners, preferring stealth to confrontation.

    Residents say they learned to keep jewelry and other valuables in safety deposit boxes and out of sight. Many added alarm systems and insured their belongings.

    "It's not just about money," said Robin Stevens, who lives with her husband and son in Brentwood. "A lot of people lost things of sentimental value."

    Stevens, whose neighbors have been burglarized, said she feels safer knowing that police arrested Thomas, but will continue hiding her mother's antique jewelry and locking the windows.

    During a two-week trip to the South Pacific last fall, Stevens made sure to e-mail her neighbors, notifying them that she would be gone so they could look out for strangers.

    Other residents remain skeptical.

    Pacific Palisades Community Council Chairman Richard G. Cohen said he feels relief but is waiting for a conviction. "The arrest doesn't mark the end of our concern," he said.

    With the economy in a tailspin, Steve Twining, who serves on the West Los Angeles Police advisory board, believes thefts will continue.

    "In these dire economic times, I don't think it's going to dissuade others from trying to do the same thing," he said. "The burglary situation will probably get worse before it gets better."

    former senator clinton's replacement

    CNN - Sources: Congresswoman to replace Clinton in Senate

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    Sources: Congresswoman to replace Clinton in Senate

    New York Gov. David Paterson has chosen Democratic Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand to succeed Hillary Clinton as U.S. Senator from New York, multiple Democratic sources told CNN Friday.

    Gillibrand, 42, represents New York's traditionally Republican 20th district.

    She is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of congressional Democrats who hold more conservative views than their liberal Democratic counterparts.

    She is an outspoken advocate for gun rights, and she supports an extension of the Bush tax cuts. She has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

    She also has a 100 percent rating from the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Paterson must appoint a replacement for Clinton, who was sworn in as President Obama's secretary of state Wednesday. A special election will be held in 2010 for the remaining two years of Clinton's term. Paterson will formally announce his decision at a noon press conference in Albany, New York.

    The final decision was made around 2 a.m. It came down to Gillibrand and Randi Weingarten, the dark horse candidate who is president of the United Federation of Teachers.

    Among the considerations Paterson used in selecting Gillibrand were that she is a woman and she is from upstate New York, sources said. Both those factors could help Paterson when he runs for election as governor next year.

    A Paterson spokeswoman, Erin Duggan, would not comment on the reports.

    "The governor is making his announcement at noon today, and that is the only comment we are making at this time," Duggan said early Friday.

    Caroline Kennedy, seen as a favorite to fill the vacant seat, withdrew her name from consideration Wednesday, citing personal reasons.

    New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Steve Israel also have been mentioned as possible appointees.

    Gillibrand was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, unseating Republican John Sweeney. In the 1990s, she worked as a lawyer for the Department of Housing and Urban Development during Cuomo's tenure as housing secretary in the Clinton administration.

    She was one of dozens of Democrats who joined House Republicans in voting against the Bush administration's $700 billion bailout of the financial industry in October, arguing the plan lacked proper oversight.

    Kennedy, 51, cited personal reasons for her decision not to continue pursuing the Senate seat, but Paterson had no intention of appointing her, a source close to the governor told CNN.

    Paterson did not think Kennedy was "ready for prime time," citing her efforts, at times awkward, to try to win the appointment, the source told CNN.

    "She clearly has no policy experience and couldn't handle the pressure," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. "Why would he pick her given how badly she handled herself in recent weeks?"

    A Kennedy ally, though, denied Kennedy had any indication Paterson was leaning against choosing her to fill out Clinton's term.

    Kennedy had been very public in expressing her interest in the seat by meeting with state and community leaders throughout New York.

    "The governor considers Caroline a friend and knows she will continue to serve New York well inside or outside of government," a statement from the governor's office read. "We wish her well in all her future endeavors."

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