Introducing the Program
Jewelry and gem theft? You might ask, why is the FBI involved? For three good reasons:
1. The thefts usually cross state…and even national…boundaries—so they need a federal agency with offices across the nation and overseas to investigate these highly mobile jewelry thieves.
2. Increasingly, they are committed by organized criminal enterprises or “theft groups”—that likewise require a federal agency with tough laws and with offices across the U.S. and overseas to bust.
3. These theft groups are often involved in other kinds of organized crime activities that are already under scrutiny by FBI investigators.
The FBI's Jewelry and Gem (JAG) Program was initiated in 1992 when thefts from jewelry retailers and robberies of traveling jewelry salespersons rose all across the United States.
What are the costs associated with JAG thefts? Huge: the jewelry industry loses more than $100 million dollars each year—and, because the crimes are often committed with weapons, sometimes they result in serious physical injury or death too.
Since 1992, the criminal enterprises involved have been South American Theft Groups (SATGs). The SATGs target traveling salespersons, and, along with some Balkan and African-American groups, target retail stores--organizing "smash and grab" armed robberies. Rookie SATG members commit other types of major theft such as clothing boosting, computer software and supplies, over-the-counter-drugs, infant formula, and various other items before they graduate to "big money" jewel thefts.
How do “fences” play into the crimes? Of course, they're integral to the success of the criminal enterprise because they provide a means to convert stolen jewels into instant cash. Commonly, jewelry is stolen in one city, fenced in another, and the proceeds are then laundered in another city or country. Many fences will even travel across the country and around the world to buy the stolen jewels—we call these specialists “flying fences.”
The most popular “fencing” cities? Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and New York City.
Bottom line: These theft rings are sophisticated; they’re organized; they’re violent—and they require a sophisticated and multi-jurisdictional response. That’s what the FBI provides--giving law enforcement agencies and the jewelry industry a means to combat crime problems in the jewelry trade in a unified and coordinated approach.
How does the FBI help the jewelry industry and police departments combat jewel thefts? Three main ways:
- Operationally, our field offices coordinate cases that cross state lines…and our Legal Attache offices overseas coordinate cases that cross national boundaries.
- We work with the law enforcement community to assist them in conducting searches through the Jewelers' Security Alliance Jewelry and Gem database.
- We sponsor investigative coordination meetings and provide resources, as needed, to local police and jewelry professionals.
Our close partnerships with jewelry industry security experts—such as the Jewelers' Security Alliance, which represents the security concerns of approximately 20,000 retail jewelry stores; the Jewelers' Mutual Insurance Company; and the Gemological Institute of America—are crucial to the success of bringing thieves to justice and recovering stolen jewels.
Our close partnerships with police are crucial to combatting the increasingly violent victimization of jewelry retailers and traveling salespersons.
The Major Theft Unit no longer maintains a Jewelry and Gem database. An industry owned and operated database is available to the law enforcement community at no charge. The database is maintained by the Jewelers' Security Alliance and can be accessed by contacting the JSA at www.jewelerssecurity.org.