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Arrest made in connection with Cottage Grove, Hastings burglaries

Cottage Grove and Hastings police arrested a Hastings man early Monday for allegedly burglarizing a string of occupied homes in the two cities.

Sean M. Ancel, 33, was arrested without incident after allegedly entering two Cottage Grove homes early Monday, police said. He was booked into Washington County Jail on suspicion of first-degree burglary and could face criminal charges tied to incidents in both cities, police said.

According to Cottage Grove and Hastings police, Ancel is accused of entering occupied homes through open or unlocked garage doors and stealing wallets and purses. He allegedly would use or attempt to use victims' stolen credit card information.

Investigators focused on Ancel as a possible suspect over the past several weeks and had been monitoring him. Around 2:30 a.m. Monday, he allegedly entered homes in the 9500 block of Dunes Court and the 9400 block of Dunes Lane. Deputy Cottage Grove Police Chief Pete Koerner said investigators followed him to the neighborhood but did not make immediate contact with him. After he left the area, police checked homes with open or unlocked garages to see if he had entered them, Koerner said.

Ancel then was stopped at a retail parking lot in Cottage Grove, where officers allegedly found him rummaging through purses, Koerner said. Police did not see Ancel entering the homes this morning, he added.

Investigators had no probable cause to search his vehicle if they stopped him before the alleged burglaries, Koerner said.

"As soon as we had enough to make the arrest, we made the arrest," he said.

Ancel was not armed, according to police.

The ongoing investigation involves determining whether he was involved in other burglaries in Cottage Grove and a string of break-ins in Hastings in recent weeks. In that time, police have been reminding residents to close and lock garage doors, to the point of waking some Hastings residents in the middle of the night to alert them to an open garage door.

"Investigators from Hastings, Cottage Grove and Dakota and Washington counties spent many hours tracking and conducting surveillance on the suspect to connect him to the crimes and develop strong evidence to support the case," Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell said. "This suspect entered people's home as they slept, which is very brazen and dangerous."

The arrest also brought a reminder to citizens to lock their doors and take other precautionary steps.

"Even while the arrest of this one suspect will immediately enhance the safety of the entire area, residents are reminded of the importance of taking all steps to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim," Cottage Grove Public Safety Director Craig Woolery said.

Check back for more on this story.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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