Jewelery News

Massive California Brink’s jewelry heist is still a mystery

In 27 minutes, millions of dollars’ worth of jewelry vanished from a Brink’s tractor-trailer in Lebec, Calif., last year. The fallout from the heist has been ugly, with Brink’s Co. suing the victimized merchants, who then filed their own suit against the company. Bloomberg Businessweek partnered with Los Angeles Times reporters Daniel Miller and Richard Winton, who’ve covered the story, for an illustrated look at the crime. Here’s what we know about how it went down.

The jewelry industry isn't as glitzy as it might seem, especially for those on the trade-show circuit.
Jewelers eke out a living under harsh lighting in drab convention centers.
It's a business built on handshake deals, generous favors and well-earned trust.
Jean Malki co-owns Forty-Seventh & Fifth Inc.  In August 2022, he was having lunch with a reporter and choking back tears.
Evidence photo provided by the FBI shows a sampling of the stolen items.

The Brink’s truck heist in Lebec has upended the tight-knit community of trade show jewelers. Its victims say the big rig burglary has left their businesses in shambles.

He recounted having to tell his kids about what had happened to his company, when more than 650 pieces were taken from him.
His daughter tried to cheer him up.
That July, the International Gem and Jewelry Show's manager noticed a man near the back of the municipal events center.
Evidence photo provided by the FBI shows a sampling of the stolen items.

Jewelers at the International Gem and Jewelry Show on July 10 were warned of suspicious people loitering outside — hours before thieves hit a Brink’s truck in what might be one of the biggest jewel heists ever.

He wasn't supposed to be there—the show ended at 5 pm Swanson instructed a security guard to escort him out the door.
Swanson alerted workers to Brink's, who had been hired to load and drive most of the jewelers' wares from the venue to LA.
The expo's organizers also warned jewelers over the facility's loudspeaker to the presence of “suspicious” people on site.
Such warnings were routine, although on this day they were delivered with more urgency than normal, the LA Times later reported.
One of the drivers, Tandy Motley, said in a deposition that a man in an SUV was watching him while the tractor-trailer was being loaded.
There was somebody kind of looking at me weird, just sitting there, as we were getting loaded.  It just feels weird.
In a deposition, the other driver, James Beaty, also noted "a gentleman that was staring" at him.
The jewelers' cases continued to be packed up—73 bags in all.  The truck drove away from the convention center at 8:25 pm,
Vehicles traverse Interstate 5 in an area known as "The Grapevines" near Lebec, Calif.  on Friday, June 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)

It took just 27 minutes to steal tens of millions in jewelry and gemstones from a Brink’s trailer in Lebec, Calif.

beginning a planned journey of roughly 370 miles south to LA on Interstate 5.
Beaty was bedded down in the sleeping berth behind the cabin, per rules that regulate commercial truck drivers off-duty time.
Midway through the rig's climb over the Tejon Pass, at about 2 am,
Motley parked at the Flying J Travel Center in Lebec.
He went to get food at the other end of the property.  He was gone for 27 minutes.
Beaty, meanwhile, remained asleep inside the vehicle.
LEBEC, CA - AUGUST 23: The Flying J Travel Center, just west of the 5 freeway in Lebec, was the site of a Brink's truck jewelry heist last month.  Photographed on Tuesday, Aug.  23, 2022 in Lebec, CA.  (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

During a Brink’s theft that may be America’s biggest jewelry heist, one armed guard was sleeping and the other was getting food.

When Motley returned,
he saw that the trailer's tamper seal had been removed and its rear lock had been “cut away,” Brink's said in a legal filing.
The LA County Sheriff's Department's deputies turned on body cameras and recorded their interactions with Motley and Beaty.

Video of a conversation between Brink’s drivers and sheriff’s deputies provides a new look at the initial response to the July 2022 crime, which victimized 14 jewelers.

Beaty and Motley said they weren't sure how many bags had been taken.  But after a deputy inquired, Motley took inventory.
He told Beaty that only 49 of the 73 bags were still there.  Holy shit.  That's a lot.
The drivers started to speculate about what had happened.  I'm pretty sure we were followed from the show where we got loaded.
Investigators suspect that thieves tracked the big rig from San Mateo using multiple vehicles, waiting for an opening.
Eight of the 14 victimized jewelers are based in LA County.  Their tight-knit community has been upgraded.
One victim, Kenny Lee, lost 1,300-plus items, a collection worth at least $12 million that took 30 years to assemble he said.
Arnold Duke, president of the International Gem and Jewelry Show, estimated the stolen items were worth more than $100 million.
LEBEC, CA - AUGUST 23: The Flying J Travel Center, just west of the 5 freeway in Lebec, was the site of a Brink's truck jewelry heist last month.  Photographed on Tuesday, Aug.  23, 2022 in Lebec, CA.  (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The drivers of a Brink’s vehicle that was burglarized last July in Lebec, Calif., did not know how valuable their cargo was, legal records show.

But in its lawsuit against the jewelers, Brink's put the value at $8.7 million.
It's standard practice to assign merchandise values ​​lower than what they'd be on the open market to reduce shipping fees.
Malki, for example, said he declared the value of his stolen goods at $100,000.  He said their fair-market value was way more.
Dana Callahan, a Brink's spokeswoman, says that in sworn testimony Malki called the valuation he used a "business decisions."
The victims were shocked by the Brink's suit, which sought to limit the company's financial exposure to $8.7 million.
Mystery shrouds the multimillion-dollar Brink's big rig heist

A 298-mile drive in 2 hours and 4 minutes? The chronology described in a legal filing and law enforcement documents has added to the mystery surrounding the multimillion-dollar jewelry heist from a Brink’s truck.

In their suit, the jewelers demanded about $100 million in restitution and at least $100 million in damages.
Callahan says “the truck was parked in a well-lit, heavily trafficked part of the truck stop..surrounded by other vehicles."
She added had the jewelers declared their wares were worth more, then Brink's would have implemented a security commendation.
The merchants' attorney, Jerry Kroll, said, “If they had guarded the goods, we wouldn't even be here now."
So where are the jewels?
Industry veterans say the merchandise has likely been altered to make it unrecognizable.
Los Angeles, CA - September 26: An 18 carrot white gold necklace with sapphire, ruby ​​and emerald necklace was seen at the jewelry store 47th & 5th on Monday, Sept.  26, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.  The owner, Jean Malki was recently robbed from a transport vehicle carrying his jewelry.  (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Understanding the jewelry world’s black market may be key to tracing the whereabouts of a multimillion-dollar haul stolen from a Brink’s big rig.

The ill-gotten wares would then be sold to fences
and resold to buyers
who might or might not know the goods were stolen.
Larry Lawton, a former jewel thief who spent over a decade in prison, says the thieves "knew where to get rid of the stuff."
You don't go into a robbery of this magnitude without having all your ducks in a row.
Whoever planned this planned a good one.
In the years since the heist, authorities have said little about their investigation.
Investigators haven't linked the suspicious men at the jewelry show to the operation.
We defer to law enforcement if there is any connection between routine warnings to jewelers and the robbery 300 miles away.
Another video captured at the Flying J is thought to exist, but the LA County Sheriff's Department hasn't disclosed details.
As the dueling lawsuits trudge along, the merchants are trying to move on.
Malki returned to the jewelry show when he came back to San Mateo in September 2022, just two months after the robbery.
He's continued to attend shows since then.  My showcases are not as full as before
But I manage.

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