A federal grand jury in Los Angeles on Friday indicted five alleged members of a robbery crew suspected of committing sophisticated heists by following wholesale jewelers and bank customers - sometimes for days - and then robbing them of more than $1 million worth of gems and tens of thousands of dollars in cash.
The five defendants, who all are in federal custody after being arrested earlier in April, each are charged with participating in a conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
They are: Federico Santiago Quiroz Lucca, 51, of Los Angeles, the alleged ringleader of the scheme;
Roberto Melendez Falcon, 51, of Los Angeles; Roberto Alonso Castellanos, 48, of Pomona; Jose Oscar Cupitre Nunez, 47, of Australia; and Jose Manuel Lopez Molina, 45, of Colombia.
Lucca and Nunez also are charged in a second count with interference with commerce by robbery. According to an affidavit previously filed in this case, from October 2017 until this month, the defendants allegedly conspired to rob a series of jewelry salespeople and bank customers in the Los Angeles area, the San Francisco Bay Area and Denver.
Lucca allegedly led and organized the crew's activities, enlisting help from several Colombian nationals who traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the conspiracy and robberies, prosecutors said.
The various heists described in court documents followed a similar pattern: a member of the crew known as a scout identified a victim who was likely to be carrying jewelry or cash. The victims typically were jewelers conducting business at jewelry stores or malls in Orange County, the Jewelry District in downtown Los Angeles, or at various trade shows, the affidavit states.
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The scout followed the victim, who often was carrying large amounts of jewelry or cash, and would wait for an opportunity when the scout and co-conspirators could rob the jeweler. The co-conspirators followed victims to locations such as gas stations and hotels, where the defendants allegedly used a ruse, such as puncturing a car tire, and then posed as a Good Samaritan, or simply used force, to rob the victims, prosecutors allege.
For example, on Feb. 8, 2018, Lucca allegedly spent four hours following a traveling jewelry salesman making rounds on behalf of his employer to jewelry stores in Orange County. As the victim returned to his car after stopping in Cypress, he was violently pushed from behind, falling into his car door, and his bag containing about $400,000 in jewelry was stolen, court papers state.
In a January incident, a couple who operated a jewelry business in Connecticut was participating in a jewelry show at the Los Angeles Convention Center, when a man wearing a yellow and orange safety vest asked to help them pack up their belongings.
According to an affidavit filed in this case, the man in the safety vest stole a bag containing about $400,000 in jewelry and the theft wasn't discovered until later.
Evidence subsequently developed by investigators determined that the robbery crew had tracked the victims for days, federal prosecutors allege.
Earlier this month, Lucca, Nunez, and Molina were arrested in Northern California after they allegedly surveilled various locations, including jewelry stores, a residence, and the Santa Clara Convention Center, where a jewelry show was scheduled to occur, according to court documents.
Castellanos was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 12, and Falcon was arrested the following day in Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
All five defendants are scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles federal court on May 3.
If convicted in this case, defendants Lucca and Nunez would face up to 40 years in federal prison, and the other defendants would face up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors said.