By Holly Yan and Amanda Watts
(CNN) — They were about to leave their homes for vacation, and the burglars knew it.
What started as a simple request to stop newspaper delivery turned into an invitation for a troupe of burglars, who ransacked at least 25 Los Angeles-area homes to the tune of $1 million over a period of three years, authorities said.
Armed with stolen lists of vacationing subscribers, the team stole computers, jewelry, musical instruments and even collectible swords, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.
The scheme started when 51-year-old Duane Van Tuinen, an office machine repairman, was contracted by distributors of the Los Angeles Times to repair equipment, officials said.
Once inside the businesses, investigators said, Van Tuinen repeatedly stole lists of Los Angeles Times newspaper subscribers who asked their newspaper delivery be put on hold while they went on vacation.
Van Tuinen passed the lists on to three others who carried out the burglaries, the sheriff’s department said.
Three other men — Randall Whitmore, 43; Joshua Box, 43; and Edwin Valentine, 52 — are suspected in the burglary ring. Charges were pending as investigators tried to locate as many victims and identify as many of the burglaries as possible, officials said.
Detectives recovered hundreds of pieces of stolen property from dozens of residential burglaries. According to the Times, the burglars allegedly stole $1 million worth of property.
“Although much of the stolen property has been returned to the rightful owners, we are still trying to locate additional victims,” Detective Jack Jordan of the Major Crimes Bureau said.
The Times said it has launched an internal review and has cooperated with the sheriff’s department.
“Our customers can rest assured that no financial information was involved and that these robberies, while terribly unfortunate, are likely limited to a small section of the vast area we cover,” Director of Communications Hillary Manning said in a statement.
But going forward, the newspaper said it will no longer share vacation information with distributors.