Authorities try to salvage case in Northern Virginia gold thefts
Monday, June 21, 2010
The string of nearly 30 gold burglaries in Northern Virginia stopped cold after seven New Yorkers were arrested on suspicion of taking part in what police called a well-organized crime ring.
The ring had zeroed in on gold that had been handed down through generations of families, and the victims were hopeful that some of the more than $1 million in valuables might be recovered after last year's arrests.
But when the cases went to court, they died.
Of the seven people arrested, six have been released and a seventh will be freed soon. Of the 58 felony charges filed, 55 were dismissed and one was reduced to a misdemeanor. One man was convicted in one burglary -- a case in which nothing was taken -- and one misdemeanor plea was obtained from another suspect, for a penalty of $72 in court costs.
Everyone else walked away.
The victimized residents watched in stunned disbelief. They have not recovered a single piece of stolen property.
"We're very upset at the whole situation," said Ashok Narayan of the Fair Oaks area, who estimated his loss to be $120,000 in gold and jewels. "It's a devastating part of the whole experience."
The case imploded through a combination of bad luck, smart criminals and savvy defense lawyers.
When the three main defendants were arrested, they had no stolen property with them. When police searched the motel where they had stayed in Alexandria, they didn't find stolen loot or other evidence linking the ring to the 29 burglaries. There was little physical evidence from the crime scenes, and no defendants were talking.
But authorities aren't giving up. Fairfax County police have resumed their investigation.
A federal angle
Last month, a group led by Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney James E. Plowman and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II met with U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride to see whether his office would take up the case. Federal prosecutors can use grand juries as an investigative tool, subpoenaing witnesses and documents, in a way state prosecutors cannot.
"They were extremely willing to help," Morrogh said of the federal prosecutors, although he said they did not commit to taking on the investigation.