Alleged International Robbery Crew Indicted in ‘Sophisticated’ Series of Jewelry Heists Throughout California
A federal grand jury indicted five men Friday who are accused of taking part in a “sophisticated” and “well-planned” string of robberies targeting jewelers and bank customers throughout California, as well as in Denver, over the past 18 months, authorities said.
The alleged robbery crew followed victims for hours or days before carrying out the high-value heists, U.S. Department of Justice Ciaran McEvoy said in a written statement. The robberies took place between October of 2017 and April of 2019 in downtown Los Angeles’ Jewelry District, Orange County, the San Francisco Bay area and Denver.
“The co-conspirators followed victims to locations such as gas stations and hotels, where the defendants allegedly used a ruse, such as puncturing a car tire, and then posed as a Good Samaritan, or simply used force, to rob the victims,” McEvoy said.
The crimes netted the suspects more than $1 million worth of jewelry and tens of thousands of dollars in cash, he added.
Suspected ringleader Frederico Santiago Quiroz Lucca, 51, of Los Angeles, as well as Jose Oscar Cupitre Nunes, 47, of Australia and Jose Manuel Lopez Molina, 45, of Colombia, were arrested in Northern California, where they were spotted conducting surveillance at jewelry stores and the Santa Clara Convention Center, which was planning a jewelry show, officials said.
Roberto Alonso Castellanos, 48, of Pomona was taken into custody in Las Vegas on April 12 and Roberto Melendez Falcon, 51, of Los Angeles was arrested in Los Angeles on April 13.
All five face a charge of participating in a conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, according to McEvoy. Lucca and Nunez each face a second count of interfering with commerce by robbery.
Lucca organized the “sophisticated” and “well-planed” spate of robberies, “enlisting help from several Colombian nationals who traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the conspiracy and robberies,” McEvoy said.
The robberies involved a similar patter, in which a “scout” would first follow a prospective victim, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, prosecutors said.
“The ‘scout’ followed the victim, who often was carrying large amounts of jewelry or cash, and would wait for an opportunity when the scout and co-conspirators could rob the jeweler,” McEvoy said.
The suspects are scheduled to appear in federal court in Los Angeles for an arraignment hearing on May 3.
If convicted as charged, Lucca and Nunez could face up to 40 years in federal prison, officials said. Falcon, Castellano an Molina could face up to 20 years behind bars.