HUERFANO COUNTY — It's certainly one of the larger and more costly string of burglaries in Huerfano County in recent years.
A series of crimes targeting vacation homes and ranch properties in and around the town of Gardner has not gained much publicity.
For several months, homeowners say they've lost their sense of safety and security after their homes were targeted in a recent rash of burglaries. Some of their properties were hit more than once.
The thieves were brazen and appeared to spend quite some time ransacking homes. They kicked in doors and took everything including appliances, ATV's, electronics, even plumbing and wiring.
Homeowners say this is the exact type of crime they tried to avoid by moving into the quiet town on the edge of the mountains.
"My wife and daughters come out here and it's just a beautiful place," Dean Pisciotta said. "It's really quiet and they come down here for a weekend to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the outdoors."
Following multiple burglaries in the area, Dean says his perception of the town has changed.
"I would never let them come down here by themselves," he said.
There's about 40 homes scattered throughout his neighborhood and according to Dean, there's been more than 25 burglaries since the beginning of the year. Some homes were hit multiple times in a matter of weeks.
"We were burglarized three separate times," Dean said.
Dean says the first burglary occurred in March and before the insurance claim could be assessed, the second one happened.
"I was actually coming up to meet with an insurance adjuster and I got here and all the doors and windows were open," Dean said. "I couldn't believe it."
About a month later, thieves struck again.
"We realized at this point they were starting to take the house apart," Dean said. "They stole stuff like sinks and hot water heaters. The damage got worse."
Neighbors eventually started getting together and talking---even forming a neighborhood "watch" group to try and deter crime.
Dean found out his neighbor just down the road from him got burglarized on four separate occasions. Neighbors began to get extremely frustrating with how these investigations were being handled by the Huerfano County Sheriff's Office.
Dean's neighbor had installed cameras which captured clear pictures of some of the suspects and their alleged getaway vehicles back in January 2021. Despite the Huerfano County Sheriff's Office reportedly having access to this evidence, it was never publicly shared or released.
"I think the sheriff's office just kind of swept it under the rug and said it's just a petty theft---someone stole a lawn mower or a chain saw from someone's house and don't have time for it," Dean said. "They don't take fingerprints. They really didn't investigate it in my opinion at all and it just kept going and now, it probably became a multi-million dollar situation with so many homes being hit."
Sheriff Bruce Newman has not responded to multiple emails seeking information about the string of burglaries.
However, the Huerfano County Sheriff's Office did release a total of five names of people they've arrested for burglaries in the area so far:
"The sheriff's office told me it's in the DA's hands now and you have to put pressure on the DA to make sure he prosecutes these people because we've arrested them on multiple occasions already for similar crimes and let them go," Dean said.
District Attorney Henry Solano sues Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman and the Sheriff's Office:
District Attorney Henry Solano doesn't deny that criminal cases have been impacted, but claims in a recent lawsuit filed that the sheriff's office is not complying with its duty and responsibility to turn over discovery evidence in a timely fashion so that cases can be successfully prosecuted.
You can review a copy of the lawsuit here.
According to Solano's lawsuit, more than 60 cases have been impacted in recent years due to alleged negligence within the sheriff's office.
"Sheriff Newman and/or his management staff have been copied on various emails specific to cases where the lack of discovery has been identified with no response or appropriate or sustained corrective action occurring," Solano writes. "This situation has gotten progressively worse, not better."
At the time of publication, Sheriff Newman has not responded to a request seeking comment on the lawsuit.
This case is scheduled to be heard in court next month.
Meanwhile, News 5 Investigates learned one of the current cases involving burglary suspect Collin Panfile is named in the DA's lawsuit as being one of the criminal matters that "no discovery has been provided or had not been timely provided" to the DA's Office.
In this case, Panfile is charged with burglary, vehicular eluding, and two counts of motor vehicle theft.
The vehicular eluding and motor vehicle theft charges have been dismissed. There's a sentencing hearing scheduled for Aug. 2 related to the burglary charge.
Updates on burglary suspect cases:
Austin Andreatta: Pleaded guilty to felony burglary and has been sentenced to 5 years in the Department of Corrections
Abriana Martinez: Currently facing charges for burglary, theft and criminal mischief
Isaac Sanchez: Currently facing charges for burglary, theft and criminal mischief
David Harmes: Currently facing charges for burglary, trespassing and criminal mischief. He's due back in court for a status conference on August 9.
Collin Panfile: As previously mentioned, Panfile has a sentencing hearing next month related to a burglary charge.
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