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Gang gets jewels; gone in 2 minutes

They're wanted in a string of smash and grabs in this region.

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - They travel together in fancy rental cars - Mercedes, BMWs, Infinitis and Chryslers. But they hide their license plate numbers under duct tape.

Covered head to toe, the thieves travel in groups of four to six and strike closed jewelry stores in the early morning hours.

Each thief seems to have an assignment.

One crashes through the front door with a hammer or ax. One breaks the glass display cases while two or three others grab as much jewelry as possible and stuff it into large bags. Others wait in the getaway cars.

"Once inside, they're in and out in under two minutes," said St. Petersburg police Sgt. Gary Dukeman.

Law enforcement agencies across Florida are searching for a Miami-based group of thieves that may be connected with dozens of jewelry store burglaries in the past year, including one Sunday at David Reynolds Jewelry Store, at 4009 Central Ave., in St. Petersburg. Six thieves took about $50,000 in jewelry.

Police have even given them a name: the Smash and Grab Burglary Ring.

Since August, the thieves are thought to have broken into at least three jewelry stores in St. Petersburg, one in Clearwater, one in Hernando County and attempted to break into another in Pasco County. Other stores in Florida, and some in Alabama and Georgia, have also been burglarized.

Dukeman described all of the crime scenes as early morning, smash-and-grab burglaries.

The burglaries were connected after St. Petersburg and Daytona Beach police began noticing similarities between an Aug. 15 burglary at Ronay Jewelers at 300 Beach Drive NE in St. Petersburg and others there.

Three men were arrested in a Daytona Beach burglary Sept. 10, Dukeman said. But by the time St. Petersburg detectives arrived to interview them, they had posted bail and disappeared.

The suspects are thought to be black males of Bahamian or Haitian descent. Dukeman said the group at one point was hitting three to 12 stores a month.

Marvin Shavlan, owner of Bond Diamonds in St. Petersburg, whose store was burglarized Dec. 9, called the thieves "brazen."

"They're good at what they do," he said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is trying to coordinate with local police departments, Dukeman said.

FDLE spokeswoman Sharon Gogerty confirmed the agency is in discussions with various law enforcement agencies about the burglaries, but declined to comment further.

Police say the thieves have also targeted electronics, firearms, computer and cell phone stores.

Taken separately, the burglaries don't amount to much, Dukeman said. But pieced together, a much larger and coordinated group effort surfaces.

"Right now, we're just trying to put a net over the whole thing," he said. "It's tough."

In the three St. Petersburg burglaries, thieves took about $204,000 in gold, silver and platinum jewelry.

At Huck Jewelers in Clearwater, owner MaryAnn Huck said the thieves took about $6,800 worth of stainless steel bracelets, gold belly rings, sterling silver jewelry and gold earrings on Dec. 13.

Several witnesses saw the men leaving in two BMW 700 series cars - one black, one white.

"They're doing this with people around," Huck said. "I'm thinking if this keeps going, somebody's going to get hurt."

During Sunday's burglary at Reynolds, Dukeman said six thieves were driving three cars: a white 500 to 700 series BMW, a white Chrysler 300 and a black sports car.

Reynolds owner Earl Waters said burglars cut the metal roll-up door with bolt cutters and smashed several glass cases. The thieves took gold and platinum jewelry, a few stone pieces and several inexpensive watches.

He said the thieves did not get the store's most expensive pieces, which are kept in a safe.

"Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, I have to remind myself, no one was hurt," said Waters, whose store opened for business as usual Monday. "That is the most important thing."

People with information about the break-ins or who have seen the vehicles involved, are asked to call the St. Petersburg Police Departmentat 727 893-7254 or the anonymous tip line at (727) 892-5000.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at mave@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8813.

[Last modified December 18, 2007, 00:00:45]


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