See the businesses that have been hit by the suspected burglary ring.

The burglars strike after closing time, sometimes snipping telephone wires or internet cables to disable security systems. They pry open doors, jimmy window frames and smash plate glass. They look for cash, work fast and seem to know what they’re doing.

Since August, 19 businesses in Portland, Westbrook and South Portland have been victims of overnight burglaries, including one location hit twice. The string of crimes continued this week, when Portland police responded to a break-in at a building supply business on Riverside Street before 11 p.m. Wednesday.

It is unclear how many people are directly involved, and whether all of the crimes are connected, but police are examining links between the break-ins.

South Portland police say they have identified two burglaries they believe are related to each other, on Aug. 26, at Docks Seafood restaurant, and Oct. 30, at the Beach Boys Cannabis company. But South Portland Police Sgt. Chris Todd stopped short of saying those two incidents are definitely connected to the crimes in Portland and Westbrook.

Police in Portland also were cautious about linking all the crimes. Portland police Lt. Robert Martin said the investigation continues.

“There’s probably a significant portion that are done by the same perpetrator or perpetrators,” Martin said. “You really can’t say until the arrest is made.”

Martin was among at least five Portland officers detailed for overtime shifts Wednesday night to patrol businesses in response to the crimes, and he was the first on scene at Kamco Supply Corp at 344 Riverside St., he said.

The thief gained entry through a door – Martin wouldn’t say exactly how – but appeared to be scared off by an alarm. A police dog followed the burglar’s scent from the back of Kamco’s parking lot through a wooded area toward the Westbrook line, but the dog lost the track, Martin said. Nothing appeared to have been stolen, he said. Police were not helped by a delay of about 30 minutes from the time the alarm company received a notice of the break-in to the time police were called and he was dispatched.

Anthony Finocchietti, a sales representative at Fitzgerald Tile in Portland, says a burglar broke a window to gain access to the store and steal money around 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 11. Police in Portland, South Portland and Westbrook are asking for the public’s help in solving a string of burglaries at 20 businesses in the three cities since August. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“In most of these, (the perpetrators) break a door visible from the road, grab a cash register or a small safe, and flee,” Martin said. “So it’s really important to get a call to us really quickly.”

In interviews with business owners and managers who were targeted, the perpetrators follow a general pattern: Someone approaches a business on foot, usually wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves, smashes a window or glass front door, crawls into the business, forces open a cash register and flees the way they came in.

That was the case at two Paulin Tire locations in Portland – on Congress Street on Oct. 11 and on Forest Avenue Sept. 11, according to business managers there. On Forest Avenue, cameras captured a man being dropped off on nearby Waverly Street before 11 p.m. on Sept. 11 and smashing his way inside. The first time the thief entered, he jimmied open a cash drawer. But he came back a second time, this time entering the garage area where the thief stole a set of screwdrivers.

At the Congress Street location, manager Greg Moreau said it was the same routine, with someone busting through a glass door.

“Triple-pane, laminate glass,” Moreau said. “I have no idea how. He had on a hat and gloves, so this wasn’t his first rodeo.”

The tactic struck Moreau as a bold choice, especially since the burglary took place not long after nearby Bunker Brewing closed for the evening around 9 p.m. The thief rummaged through the counter and took about $100 in change and small bills from two cash register drawers.

Security camera footage from Fitzgerald Tile that sales representative Anthony Finocchietti says was taken the night of a recent burglary and given to police.

“He didn’t take anything else, no tools, no inspection stickers,” Moreau said. “It was a $1,000 door (broken) for $100.”

Not 100 yards from Moreau’s shop on Westfield Street, Fitzgerald Tile was hit on the same night. Someone smashed a side window, crawled inside and ransacked the tile shop’s counter area, making off with a small amount of cash, said sales representative Anthony Finocchietti.

Finocchietti says he gave police video of someone walking toward the business wearing a hooded sweatshirt, near where the window was broken. The thief bypassed laptop computers and other electronics in favor of cash, he said.

At Tire Warehouse on Riverside Street, the burglary on Sept. 20 was similar, manager Gary Fecteau said. The perpetrator kicked in the bottom portion of the front glass door, crawled along the floor to avoid setting off a motion detector, ransacked two cash drawers and took a handful of candy from a bowl on the counter. Luckily there was not much money in the drawers, Fecteau said. Most of their payments are via credit card, but the door cost about $700 to replace.

At Po’ Boy and Pickles, the thief smashed a front window that faced Forest Avenue, but was obscured behind an overgrown bush. For the effort, the thief made off with a bunch of quarters left in the register drawer, a few cans of beer – Pabst Blue Ribbon – and a few bottles of Maine Root soda.

“He didn’t even take any of the macaroons, which everyone comes here to buy,” manager Levi Marten said.

Westbrook businesses also were targeted. At the Dairy Queen on Main Street on Oct. 10, someone cut the phone lines and pried open the drive-through window to get inside, and then broke open the cash drawers, owner Bob Patten said. A short distance down the road in Portland, at Elsmere Barbeque on Stevens Avenue, someone climbed on top of the building to cut the internet lines before forcing their way inside and breaking open a safe.

The Westbrook Eagles Club fared better. Two burglars cut internet and phone lines and opened a locked back door, without damaging it, to get into the club’s bar area, setting off an alarm. But they didn’t stay long and left before taking anything, club manager Melody Lussier said.

“They went by the cash registers four times,” said Lussier, who hypothesized that the perpetrators were looking for a safe or some more lucrative target. “From what I’m hearing from the other businesses, we were extremely lucky.”

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