Feds Bust Smash-and-Grab Rolex Robbers

Four men were arrested Thursday and charged with helping to plan and execute a series of smash-and-grab robberies targeting millions of dollars worth of Rolex and other high-end Swiss watches at retail stores across Southern California.

A superceding indictment filed in Santa Ana federal court last week charges a total of nine defendants, six of whom allegedly planned and organized the robberies. The other three allegedly participated in one or more of the heists.

Prosecutors say the organizers recruited financially desperate young men to perform the smash-and-grab robberies, often by promising large sums of money if they were successful.

However, when those involved in the actual robberies were eventually paid, they often received much less than what they had promised, despite stealing watches and other jewelry worth about $6 million. In addition to the four arrested today, three defendants are already in custody and authorities are continuing to search for two robbery suspects.

The targeted jewelry stores based on their inventory of expensive watches, including those manufactured by Rolex, Audemar Piguet and TAG Heuer, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The conspiracy count alleges a string of 10 robberies between early August 2015 and April of this year. One heist at a store in the Century City mall netted watches worth more than $1.6 million, and involved one of the robbers firing a shot from a rifle at a security guard who was trying to secure the store.

The most recent robbery was April 24 at Ben Bridge Jewelers in Santa Monica. The robbers got away with about $69,700 in valuables in that heist, prosecutors said. According to the indictment, the organizers planned the details of the robberies, including selecting the display cases to be smashed, and providing the firearms, tools, disguises and stolen cars used in the crimes.

The nine defendants are:

-- Darrell Dent, 39, of Inglewood, who was arrested Thursday and who is accused of being the leader of the conspiracy;

-- Keith Walton, 45, of Los Angeles, another key figure in the conspiracy, who was already in federal custody on an unrelated charge;

-- Robert Johnson, 27, of Inglewood, who was arrested Thursday and who allegedly recruited robbers and supplied firearms used during several of the robberies;

-- Stanley Ford, 47, of Los Angeles, who was arrested Thursday and is accused of being an organizer of the robberies;

-- Justin Henning, 28, of Inglewood, who was arrested Thursday and who allegedly helped recruit some of the robbers;

-- Evan Scott, 27, of Inglewood, currently a fugitive, who allegedly was a gunman in two of the robberies;

-- Kenneth Paul, 21, of Los Angeles, currently a fugitive, who allegedly helped recruit robbers;

-- Jameson Laforest, 24, of Inglewood, who was already in state custody on an unrelated charge and who allegedly received watches stolen during a robbery in Torrance; and

-- Marshawn Marshall, 18, of Inglewood, who was already in federal custody after being arrested in March 2016 on charges of participating in a jewelry store robbery in Mission Viejo. Marshall was initially charged in state court, along with a second man, with the Oct. 21 robbery of Frederic H. Rubel Jewelers in the Shops at Mission Viejo mall.

The robbers got away with 40 Rolex watches valued at about $1.63 million, prosecutors said. His former co-defendant in the state case, Devan Devall Howard of Inglewood, is not named in the most recent indictment. Howard's case is still pending. Levon Michael Tippit, 23, of Inglewood, pleaded guilty in state court Jan. 12 to stealing a Chevrolet Tahoe used as a getaway vehicle in the Mission Viejo robbery and was sentenced to two years in jail.

The 13-count indictment charges all nine defendants with violating the Hobbs Act by conspiring to interfere with commerce by robbery. The nine are each charged in at least one of six counts alleging a Hobbs Act robbery. Five of the defendants are charged in at least one of six counts of using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. The seven counts that allege violations of the Hobbs Act each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. The charges that allege use of a firearm during the robberies carry a consecutive sentence of seven years, or 10 years if the gun is discharged during the underlying offense.

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