The group was accused of committing around fifty thefts of over 1.4kg of jewellery, 21 pieces of gold, and various other precious objects, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Grand Est, Bourgogne Franche-Comté, Centre Val-de-Loire, Brittany and beyond, since May 2018.
Two of the group were found to have disguised themselves as servicemen from services company Veolia, to gain access to the stolen goods. They were aided by four others.
The group was named as an “organised gang of robbery bosses” with a history of “criminal conspiracy and laundering”, when they were first taken into custody.
Crime agency the Office Central de Lutte Contre la Délinquance Itinérante (OCLDI) became involved after it emerged that the suspects were members of the travelling community.
The arrests took place in the Charente-Maritime (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) and Pas-de-Calais (Hauts-de-France), as part of an investigation by gendarmerie in Strasbourg, and the OCLDI, according to a press release from specialist legal unit La Juridiction Interrégionale Spécialisée (JIRS).
Four have now been jailed, and two are under judicial supervision.
A statement from JIRS said: “The operation was characterised by the involvement of two fake employees of services company Veolia, pretending that work was needed on the water pipes of the victims’ homes.
“After offering fake identification and checks, the men invented false problems [with the pipes] and told their victims that they would be using very toxic chemicals that risked dissolving precious jewellery.”
Victims - aged between 79 and 84 years - then gathered their jewellery and gold into bags, and placed it into their household refrigerators, as instructed by the fake workers. The victims were then purposefully distracted, allowing the alleged criminals to steal the bags.
The first cases were reported in the Ain and the Bas-Rhin, with further links then made across 25 other departments.
JIRS added that it had also found “wigs and Veolia [branded] overalls” during its investigation, and said that the group had around €210,000 in criminal funds.
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France