Thieves Target Traveling Salesmen
Masked men stole suitcases from a salesman containing jewelry worth $3.7 million. The
Los Angeles group that pulled off the 2009 robbery commits about 45 heists a year,
netting about $15 million.
Jewel Thieves, Inc.
Traveling Salesmen Targeted
It happened in an instant: the jewelry salesman stopped at a restaurant outside Columbus, Ohio after attending a trade show and was sitting in his car in the parking lot when a vehicle pulled up behind him. Masked men jumped from the vehicle, shattered the salesman’s driver-side window and held him while their accomplices smashed the back window and grabbed two suitcases containing gems worth $3.7 million.
The lightning-fast robbery was just another day’s work for gangs of thieves—mostly Colombian nationals in the U.S. illegally—who prey on traveling jewelry salesman. A number of these theft groups operate around the country, and our jewelry and gem program was established in 1992 to help combat the problem.
“This type of theft is something of a unique crime category for the FBI,” said Special Agent Frank Aimaro, who supervises our Jewelry and Gem Task Force in Los Angeles in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department. “It’s a serious issue, resulting in substantial losses.” (The Jewelers’ Security Alliance trade group estimates that crimes against U.S. jewelry firms last year resulted in losses of nearly $100 million.)
A salesman in Ohio fought back. As robbers made their getaway, the salesman fired seven shots, hitting their car several times.
The thieves are bold and cagey. Working in groups, they use phony identities, rental cars, and sophisticated surveillance techniques. When they rob, they would rather not be violent, but they will resort to violence if necessary. “They will do whatever it takes to get the jewels,” Aimaro said, adding that the robberies and carjackings aren’t glamorous in the way often portrayed by Hollywood.
The Los Angeles group that pulled off the 2009 Ohio robbery usually commits about 45 heists a year and nets about $15 million, Aimaro said. “And that’s just the L.A. crew. You also have crews from New York, Miami, Houston, and Chicago.” The thieves fence stolen gems for 20 cents on the dollar, he added, “and they have no problem getting rid of the stuff.”
When they are not planning thefts from the many jewelry merchants who carry their inventory to trade shows and other venues, the crews steal expensive laptop computers or rob bank customers of large withdrawals or deposits. And their girlfriends are often engaged in high-volume shoplifting, known as boosting. “They are always doing something criminal,” Aimaro said.
What the L.A. crew hadn’t counted on during the Ohio robbery was that the salesman had a gun under the front seat of his car. As the robbers made their getaway in a rented Chrysler 300, the salesman fired seven shots, several of which hit the car.
When police later found the abandoned vehicle, they also discovered that one of the thieves had left a wallet behind with a Los Angeles driver’s license. That’s when Aimaro and the task force got involved. Aimaro recognized the thief’s picture, even though the license was a fake. From that information, agents were able to track the crew to New Jersey—they were planning to fence the jewels in New York City.
Three days after the heist, detectives from the Westerville (Ohio) Police Department and sheriff’s deputies from Passaic County, New Jersey arrested the six robbers in a New Jersey hotel. All the jewelry was recovered and all six later pled guilty and are currently in jail.
Special Agent Kristin Cadieux, who worked the case out of our Columbus office, said the quick capture of the thieves and the recovery of the gems was possible because of the L.A. task force. “Their expertise was invaluable,” she said.
- Jewelry and Gem Program