LEE -- After Massachusetts State Police alerted residents in 16 Southern Berkshire County towns on Friday morning to a recent wave of house break-ins in at least seven communities, including Pittsfield, the phone lines lit up at the Lee barracks.

The alert, sent out by the Berkshire County Sheriff's Dispatch Center as a landline phone message shortly after 8 a.m., urged the public to be on the lookout and to share any available information about the crimes by calling state police in Lee at (413) 243-0600.

"It was a consensus of the investigators here at the Lee barracks to seek the public's help," said Lt. David Buell. In recent weeks, burglaries have taken place primarily in Richmond, but also in Lanesborough, Stockbridge, Otis, Becket and Sandisfield.

In response to the alert, state police in Lee received "dozens and dozens of calls -- that's a lot more than we normally get," said Trooper Thomas Forest on Friday afternoon. "We do have some loose information we're trying to piece together but nothing solid so far."

"Richmond has been especially hard hit," according to Trooper Mary Sheehan, citing reports of seven break-ins so far this month in that town, all in the daylight hours. Houses unoccupied between 8:30 and 5 were targeted, she added.

Stolen items include jewelry, electronics such as iPads, iPods and flat-screen TVs, tools, garden equipment and lawn furniture, state police reported.

The public is being asked to be "extremely vigilant" and to report suspicious vehicles in their neighborhoods, ideally with plate numbers and the make of the car when available, said Sheehan.

Describing the criminals' method of operation, Sheehan noted that they knock on people's doors, and if someone is home, they ask for directions, or say they're seeking a lost dog or looking for work.

Investigators arrested two suspects on Tuesday and thought the wave of break-ins may have been solved, but another incident occurred on Wednesday. The suspects were identified as Michael A. Vickery, 23, of East Street, Pittsfield, and Jake Sawtelle, also 23, of the same address. They were arraigned at Central Berkshire District Court on Wednesday. Vickery was held but Sawtelle was released, according to state police.

"We believe some surveillance may have been involved" before specific residences were hit, Buell said. "We're finding out that drug dealers are taking electronics in trade for drugs."

Residences and businesses that received reverse 911 calls were in all the towns under the jurisdiction of the state police in Lee. The communities were Alford, Becket, Egremont, Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Monterey, Mount Washington, New Marlborough, Otis, Richmond, Sandisfield, Sheffield, Stockbridge, Tyringham and West Stockbridge.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
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