Romanian organized crime group targeting places of worship across Maryland, Virginia

An international organized crime ring is reportedly targeting houses of worship in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

So far, in 2024, thieves have already burglarized five religious institutions - two Buddhist temples, two mosques, and one Hindu temple in Montgomery County, according to police.

In 2023, they targeted seven similar places, with investigators making arrests in about half the cases.

Lieutenant Andrew Suh with Montgomery County Police said the primary suspects in these cases are a group called the Romanian Organized Crime Group, who call themselves the ROMAs.

"They travel around the United States and commit property crimes," Lt. Suh said. "They don't want to harm anyone. It's not a hate crime, but obviously it affects the public."

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Romanian organized crime group targeting places of worship across Maryland, Virginia

Lt. Suh said they typically are looking for cash and jewelry.

"They generally are a crime of opportunity, so it is traumatic for the victims, but hopefully, we don't want them to live in fear," he added, saying that there have been no injuries in Montgomery County, and it appears the ROMAs do not want conflict.

But this is how bold and brazen these criminals are. Surveillance video from the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple in Silver Spring from Sunday shows the men walking in around 11 a.m. while dozens of people are around, attending a funeral luncheon.

The thieves sneak upstairs and steal a safe from a monk's residence and walk out within 12 minutes.

Inside the safe was $20,000 in donations from members that the monk was planning to deposit the very next day.


FOX 5 spoke to other temples in Maryland and northern Virginia who have been targeted in recent weeks as well - and it turns out, this is a crime that is often underreported.

The monks said they hope the thieves will change and do good in the future.

"In Buddhism, we believe in karma - maybe the police cannot catch them, but the karma will catch them soon," said resident Monk Ruangrit Thaithae aka 'Monk Jack' of Wat Thai.

Resident Monk Ruangrit Thaithae aka 'Monk Jack' of Wat Thai

A temple in Accokeek, Maryland sent FOX 5 security photos of a group of men breaking in around mid-March. They allegedly damaged the door but weren't able to get anything because the monks saw what was happening and scared them away.

Kate Chance is a faith liaison in Montgomery County.

"Houses of worship are upset because often they're using their funds to help the community right? they're running food drives and food pantries, child support programs, supporting the elderly," Chance said. "And often folks see them as easy targets because they're just kind hearted individuals who often don't report these sorts of incidents."

Montgomery County has a specific grant for nonprofits and houses of worship that they can apply for that will provide up to $20,000 for security upgrades.

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Romanian organized crime group targeting places of worship across Maryland, Virginia

The latest round of grants was given to 136 places and totaled $900,000, Chance said.

"That funding will cover cameras, camera installation, officer personnel, and different security training," Chance said. "It does not cover hardening the facility - like improving the doors and windows - so for that, we encourage folks to apply for state and federal grants."

Thai New Year is this weekend, with thousands of people expected to gather and celebrate. The temples FOX 5 spoke with do plan to have increased security and patrols.