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Suspect held in schools burglary spree

A security guard who dreamed of becoming a police officer has been arrested in a two-month crime spree that targeted vending machines at a dozen schools in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, authorities said Friday.

Sergio Riveron, 21, a Hialeah man who worked as a private guard in Miami-Dade, was taken into custody on burglary charges at about 2 a.m. on Oct. 28 at Deerfield Beach High — the last of three high schools in Broward that he and an accomplice are accused of striking that night, the Broward Sheriff's Office said.

Tipped off by a silent alarm at Deerfield High, Broward Sheriff's Deputy Lee Geiger entered the grounds and found Riveron and his alleged accomplice, Yumisani Hernandez, 26, of Miami, using a crowbar to pry open a snack machine for its money, officials said.

As deputies converged on the school, Riveron dropped to his knees for Geiger to arrest him. But Hernandez ran and remains at large, the Sheriff's Office said.

Authorities said Riveron and Hernandez are suspected in dozens of school burglaries in Miami-Dade and Broward. The suspects so far have been linked to 12 burglarized schools in both counties, partly based on Riveron acknowledging his involvement in those heists, officials said.

Broward Assistant Public Defender Jason Blank, representing Riveron, said he was reviewing the charges against his client after being assigned to the case Monday.

Riveron and Hernandez allegedly stole as little as $100 from each vending machine they plundered, money that they considered "quick cash," officials said. The ensuing repair costs put a big hurt on the machines' vendors, who contract with school districts in Broward and Miami-Dade.

The largest vendor in Broward, Miami-based Gilly Vending Inc., estimated it had incurred $65,000 in damage and losses since the spree began in September.

"The cost factor was astronomical," Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Charles Hurley said at a news conference Friday. "These business owners were nearly brought to their knees due to these actions."

The spree covered two counties, so Hurley's agency teamed up with the Broward Sheriff's Office and Broward Schools' Special Investigative Unit. The day before Riveron's arrest, the Broward Schools unit hosted a meeting for other agencies, spreading the word about the thieves' habits.

The burglars, emboldened by nighttime darkness, entered schools by climbing fences or using bolt cutters to break open locks on gates. Inside schools, they used bolt cutters or crowbars to get past the machines' protective cages, then stole the money inside.

Because of such notification, Deputy Geiger wasn't surprised a silent alarm was triggered at Deerfield Beach High on Oct. 28. After hopping a fence and patrolling the grounds, he found two burglars breaking into a machine and stealing coins and one-dollar bills. Geiger stood behind a tree and radioed nearby deputies about the heist.

Deputies driving to the school activated their cruisers' emergency lights, startling the burglars. Riveron was then arrested.

Before the Deerfield Beach High incident that night, the burglars also struck J.P. Taravella High and Coral Springs High, both in Coral Springs, officials said. Investigators retrieved a backpack, which was filled with cash, burglary tools and a flashlight. A list of targeted schools was found inside the suspects' vehicle, officials said.

Whether the pair was responsible for the similar burglaries at other schools is under investigation.

During questioning, Riveron said he was planning to soon attend a police academy to one day become an officer. He had no prior criminal history.

After Riveron's arrest, Miami-Dade Schools police phoned Hernandez, who told them he didn't want to go back to prison and that he wouldn't surrender, said Broward Sheriff's Detective Scott Nida.

State records show Hernandez was freed in April after serving a nearly four-year prison sentence for burglary, grand theft and battery on a child. He has had multiple burglary convictions in recent years, records show.

Anyone with information about Hernandez's whereabouts may call Detective Nida at 954-480-4316 or Broward Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 954-493-TIPS (8477).