Brenden Hills, 24 January 2016

THEY arrived in Melbourne as tourists. But this family of Albanians quickly turned their trip into an alleged working holiday by using high-powered blowtorches to cut through safes and ATMs to steal nearly $600,000.

Police claim three family members and another man toured the east coast as they carried out 16 daring heists.

During the robberies, they allegedly broke in through roofs and used an oxyacetylene torch or an angle grinder to cut through metal.

By the time they were arrested in the Northern Territory, police allege they had stolen more than $580,000 in a spree that started in Victoria and continued through NSW and Queensland.

Aniello Vinciguerra, Simon Sheu, Gjergi “George” Nika and Marsel Boka are now behind bars and facing a combined 82 criminal charges.

Vinciguerra, 35, has been committed to stand trial later this year and is set to fight the charges. The other three men are still before the local court and haven’t entered pleas.

According to evidence at Vinciguerra’s committal hearing in October, he joined the other men in Victoria shortly after arriving here in September 2014 on a tourist visa. Vinciguerra had an Italian passport, which police allege is fake “as it ­appears to be poorly made”.

Sheu, 40; Nika, 43; and Boka, 33; are all Albanian nationals who are ­related by marriage or blood, court documents said.

They arrived in Australia with their families on tourist visas in 2012 and settled in three townhouses in Tullamarine, Victoria. Despite not being able to legally work, police examined bank records, which showed the men and their family “have unexplained substantial wealth”.

Police haven’t been able to establish the specific role each of the men allegedly played in the robberies.

Instead, investigators will claim they were part of a joint criminal ­enterprise in all of the robberies.

According to court documents, the first break-in occurred at Royal Melbourne Zoo in April, 2012, where an angle grinder was used to cut through a Citibank ATM containing $15,740. The robbers only took $770 cash and left $15,000 at the scene, while DNA from a blood smear was linked to Nika, the documents claim.

Early on March 31, 2014, members of the gang allegedly peeled back the tin roof on the Coles Express service station at Hallam, Victoria. They ­allegedly smashed the CCTV and alarm systems before using an angle grinder to cut open a note reader and an ATM and steal $35,500.

In July 2014, police allege Nika cut a hole in the roof of Berry Bowling Club directly above the club’s takings room and stole more than $15,000.

After two more alleged robberies, the gang broke in through the roof of the Tahmoor Medical Centre on ­August 22, 2014. Inside, they allegedly smashed all the security equipment and stole $60,000 after cutting through an ATM.

Police allege the gang migrated to Queensland with their families four days later. On September 1, 2014, $65,000 was stolen from Redlynch Central Shopping Centre in Cairns.

Investigators allege their biggest returns came in NSW where $104,000 was stolen from St Andrews Shopping Centre, near Minto, in October 2014. At the Homemaker Centre in Kotara, west of Newcastle, the offenders allegedly cut through the roof and used an oxy-cutter to steal $98,890 from an ATM.

On October 27, 2014, they allegedly stole $182,000 from ATMs ­inside the Thornton Shopping Centre near East Maitland. After linking evidence to the men, including cars near the crime scenes and cutting equipment left at the scene, investigators followed the men to Darwin.

They were arrested about 1.30am on December 8, 2014, by Northern Territory Tactical Response Police outside Coolalinga Shopping Centre.

Police searched the car and found oxy-torches and other equipment, it is alleged in court documents.

Vinciguerra will face the Sydney District Court on September 19 while the other men will front Central Local Court on February 18.

Extracted in full from the Daily Telegraph.