The FBI's Jewelry & Gem Theft program—created in 1992—offers investigative assistance and intelligence on theft groups to law enforcement and partners with the jewelry industry to create a unified and coordinated approach to this crime threat. The FBI is involved in this types are thefts for several reasons: 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; these crimes are increasingly 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; and these groups are often involved in other kinds of organized crime activities already under scrutiny by the FBI.
Introducing the Program
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.
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 are 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 police are crucial to combating the increasingly violent victimization of jewelry retailers and traveling salespersons.
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.
The FBI no longer maintains a Jewelry and Gem database; instead, it supports an industry-owned and operated database available to the law enforcement community at no charge. The database is maintained by the Jewelers’ Security Alliance (JSA) and can be accessed by contacting the JSA at www.jewelerssecurity.org.
South American Theft Groups (SATGs) are organizations predominately consisting of Colombian nationals who commit jewelry thefts, burglaries, and robberies. SATG members usually enter the U.S. illegally with false identification. In the early 1980s, SATGs were involved in distraction type thefts or burglaries of hotel rooms and automobiles, including when jewelry representatives were attending jewelry trade shows. Today, SATGs are primarily engaged in highly organized international violent robberies of traveling jewelry salespersons and distraction/scam thefts from retail jewelry stores, rarely targeting stores. SATGs are based primarily in Atlanta, New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago. Members are 20 years old and up and include males and females. They are highly mobile, moving from city to city and country to country in search of victims and committing multiple robberies across jurisdictions. SATGs are more violent than other groups, often using guns and/or knives to commit their jewelry crimes. They also use sophisticated equipment, conduct multi-vehicle physical surveillance and counter-surveillance, and develop their own "informants" within the jewelry industry to target salespersons and businesses.
African-American groups: violent jewelry robberies of jewelry and department stores, using armed robbery grab-and-run, sneak theft, smash-and-grab, diamond-switch or distraction techniques.
Yugoslavia, Albania, Croatia and Serbia (YACS) gangs: burglaries of jewelry stores.
Title 18, United States Code, Section 659
Theft from Interstate Shipment (TFIS) - makes it a federal offense to embezzle, steal or obtain by fraud or deception from any conveyance, depot or terminal, any shipment being transported in interstate or foreign commerce. The statute also prohibits the "fencing" of such stolen property.
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1951
Interference with Commerce by Threats of Violence (Hobbs Act) - prohibits the obstruction of any article or commodity in interstate commerce by robbery or extortion, or the commission or threat of physical violence.
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1961
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) - any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical (as defined in Section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act), which is chargeable under state law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.
Title 18, United States Code, Sections 2314 and 2315
Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property (ITSP) - prohibit the transportation in interstate or foreign commerce of any goods of the value of $5,000 or more where the goods are known to have been stolen, converted or taken by fraud. These statutes also prohibit the receipt and sale of such known stolen goods.
Prosecutive guidelines are established by the United States Attorney in each federal judicial district.