A mini-gang of four suspected jewel thieves was arrested on the banks of the Anacostia River Monday afternoon when it tried to sell $7,000 worth of gold jewelry to an undercover D.C. police officer for $2,000.
After the officer, posing as a fence, drew a wad of marked $50 and $100 bills from his pocket in Anacostia Park, police said, one of the suspects showed him the jewelry: six earrings with precious stones and a gold necklace.
Dangling from the jewelry were price tags fresh from the cases of Charles Ernst Jewelers, 1027 Connecticut Ave. NW, one of the dozens of area jewelers that have experienced the gold lust of local jewel thieves within the last year.
Nearly $50,000 in jewels was stolen from the fashionable Connecticut Avenue jewelry store on Nov. 26. Three days later, thieves smashed windows and jewel cases and stole $75,000 more in designer jewels.
Monday's "buy-bust" was "the first real break we've had in jewel cases," said Capt. Jimmy Wilson, chief of the D.C. police special investigations branch, which orchestrated the sting on the banks of the Anacostia.
"It's the first time we've been able to make an arrest and recover stolen property at the same time," he said.
One necklace recovered was valued at $1,395, a mere gleam in the bucket of jewels that small, apparently independent bands of jewel thieves have lifted in recent burglaries Connecticut Avenue to Prince George's County.
More than 20 area jewelry stores, from Lord & Taylor on Western Avenue to Boon and Sons in Montgomery County, had been plagued with window-smashing burglars so successful they're a mere patch on the road by the time police arrive, said burglary detective Sally Kirk.
"Hundreds of thousands of dollars" in jewels have been stolen in the last year throughout the metropolitan area," said Kirk, who has been working the cases for a year. "Burglar alarms mean nothing.
The burglars usually skulk about the early morning hours, running in packs of three and four people she said. They often case the store before-hand, smashing the front door with a brick or crowbar, then breaking glass display cases and scoop up the jewels, before speeding off.
Getaway cars, say police have included rental vehicles, a yellow or cream colored Pontiac Firebird, a yellow Chevy Vega and a 1970 white and blue Cadillac Eldorado.
The jewel thieves often offer their wares at a discount to gamblers at after-hours clubs, say police.
Arrested Monday as suspects in the buy-bust were: Jamal M. Pannell, 19, of 1329 Sixth St. NW who was charged with burglary and receiving stolen property; Norman Pannell, 22, his brother, who was charged with receiving stolen property and violating the Controlled Substances Act, and Michael Knight, 21, of 2309 Angier Place SE, and Barbara Mitchell, 27, of 511 P St. SE, who were charged with receiving stolen property.
Jamal Pannell and Knight were released on their own recognizance after arraignment in D.C. Superior Court yesterday. Norman Pannell was ordered held on $5,000 bond. Mitchell's status before the court was not immediately available.