A sophisticated and violent ring that stole more than $4.6 million worth of jewelry from traveling salespeople in Virginia, Maryland and five other states has been broken up, federal authorities said Wednesday.
Seven members of the Richmond-based organization were arrested Tuesday on charges related to 17 robberies in Vienna, McLean, Dumfries, Towson and other locations across the United States, authorities said. The suspects made an initial appearance Wednesday in federal court in Newport News, Va.
Authorities said the ring had ties to South American jewelry theft operations. This group was distinguished by its methodical planning, lengthy surveillance of targets and jewelry stores, and swift strikes on salespeople, who can carry up to $500,000 in jewels, prosecutors said.
“Several men would suddenly appear, punch out windows in a victim’s car, threaten them at knife point and take the jewelry,” said Neil H. McBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
During getaways, the thieves often took the victims’ cellphones and slashed their tires to hinder efforts to contact police, McBride said. During a March 2010 robbery in Henrico County, Va., a salesman resisted the robbers, was assaulted and suffered cuts to the head that required 20 staples.
The thieves sold the stolen jewelry to New York-based Russian criminals, who resold it or melted it down, McBride said.
An exhaustive investigation was mounted to break up the ring. Authorities listened to more than 930 wiretapped conversations, examined phone, credit card and bank records, conducted surveillance of suspected members and followed the movements of nine vehicles using Global Positioning System tracking, according to court records.
The ring first struck in the Washington area outside a Hilton Garden Inn in Vienna in August 2010, according to authorities, who gave this account: Two jewelry salespeople, returning from dinner, had just parked their car when they were approached by two men. One salesperson ran toward a garage, yelling for help, and tossed his bag, which held about $15,000 of jewelry, under a car. The men grabbed a bag that held about $300,000 in jewelry from the other salesperson.
A salesman was robbed of $350,000 worth of jewels at a Dumfries Super 8 Motel in November 2010, and more than $450,000 was taken from another at the Towson Sheraton hotel in April 2011, according to court papers. The final robbery reported locally occurred in November 2011 outside of the McLean’s MK Gallery store, where robbers took $250,000 in jewels and $4,500 in cash from a salesman, according to court records.
Authorities identified the leader of the group as Alexander Cuadros-Garcia, 37, of Richmond. The other defendants are also from the Richmond area, and most are believed to be Colombian nationals, according to court records.
Most of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to obstruct, delay and affect commerce by robbery, and they face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted.