Authorities on Monday announced that that four people have been charged in connection with a series of home invasions in Middlesex County.
There have been at least five incidents since late October in which a family of Asian or Indian descent was targeted.
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.
The charges were filed after the defendants were identified through the efforts of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which worked with authorities in Georgia, Michigan, New York, and Texas, where the defendants were apprehended last week.
It was not immediately known when the defendants, all residents of Houston, will be returned to New Jersey, where bail has been set for each of them at $1.25 million.
They have been identified as 39-year-old Chaka Castro, 34-year-old Juan Olaya, 22-year-old Octavius Scott and 19-year-old Johnisha Williams.
Castro was charged with five counts of conspiracy to commit robbery, a second degree offense, with a count stemming from each of the home invasions.
In addition, her co-defendants have been charged with a series of counts arising from each of the home invasions, including first-degree robbery and first-degree kidnapping, second-degree conspiracy, second-degree burglary, second-degree aggravated assault, and terroristic threats, theft, criminal mischief, and hindering their apprehension, all third degree offenses.
In addition, the co-defendants also are charged with fourth degree counts of pointing firearms at victims in each of the home invasions.
The first-degree kidnapping carries penalties of up to 30 years in a New Jersey state prison upon conviction and the first-degree robbery counts each carry 20-year terms. The other second degree counts allow for 10-year prison terms. The third degree charges carry five-year terms and the fourth degree charges have a penalty of 18 months in custody.
The four individuals were charged during an investigation in which Agent John Selesky and Detective John Marotta, both of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, determined that Castro targeted specific homes in the three Middlesex County communities and then directed her co-defendants to commit the crimes.
Authorities say Scott and Olaya entered each of the homes at gunpoint, restrained the families, and fled with stolen items in each of the five home invasions. They also threatened homeowners and smashed cell phones to prevent victims from calling police.
In all but the home invasion in Old Bridge on November 29, 2014, prosecutors say Williams waited outside the homes and drove Scott and Olaya from the crime scenes.
In addition to the November 29, 2014, home invasion, the defendants were charged with committing home invasions in Old Bridge on October 20, 2014, and October 26, 2014, in South Plainfield on October 28, 2014, and in Edison on October 30, 2014.
Prosecutor Carey advised residents to be vigilant, watch neighbors’ homes and call police regarding any suspicious activity. He also advised residents to make certain their homes are secure.
The investigation is active and is continuing. Anyone with information is urged to call their local police, or Agent Selesky of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office at (732) 745-3439, or Detective Marotta of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office at (732) 745- 3331.