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7 arrested in multi-state jewelry-theft ring

NORFOLK, Va. — Seven people have been charged with operating a jewelry-theft ring based in Richmond, Va. that authorities say stole more than $4.6 million in merchandise from traveling salesmen in Virginia and several other states.

Those charged had initial court appearances in federal court in Newport News, Va., on Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said the group is part of an international criminal organization that committed 17 robberies, primarily by attacking sales representatives and couriers after they had returned to their homes or hotel rooms. He said the group used prolonged, sophisticated surveillance methods to identify vulnerable salesmen, who were targeted throughout Virginia as well as in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, California and Tennessee over the past two years. Sometimes the robbed salesmen would be followed for hundreds of miles and across state lines.

“This is a group that allegedly did their homework,” MacBride said in a conference call with reporters.

Court documents say the group of Colombians has ties to South American theft groups, which federal authorities say are transnational criminal groups that work in teams to steal jewelry, gems and precious metals from those who carry hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise at one time.

Prosecutors say that after a successful robbery, members of the ring would travel to New York to sell the merchandise to “fences” who would either resell it or melt it down for later use. MacBride said the group didn’t target any one particular type of jewelry, saying it included gold and gems, among other things.

Those facing various conspiracy charges are Leonardo Ortiz, Lucesita Argueta, Francisco Javier Montesrein-Rodriguez, Raul Antonio Escobar-Martinez, Jose Alfredo Rivero-Garcia, Juanita Diaz and Alexander Cuadros-Garcia. Caudros-Garcia is considered by federal authorities to be the group’s ringleader.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether any of those arrested had attorneys.

If convicted, each of them faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Court documents say the Virginia thefts occurred in Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, McLean, Henrico County and Prince William County. Court records say other thefts occurred in New York, Baltimore, Raleigh, N.C., Newark, N.J. and Rutherford, N.J.

Documents say the group also conducted surveillance and planned to commit robberies in San Francisco and Nashville, Tenn.