Inside the highway holdup that netted thieves $100M in rare jewels and has left LAPD scratching its head: Crooks waited at truck stop for Brinks van drivers to pull in at 2am before emptying it in 27 minutes
Police believe a team of burglars discreetly tracked a truck carrying $100 million worth of jewels from a gem show in northern California to a Los Angeles area truck stop, before raiding the vehicle in one of the ‘largest jewelry heists ever.’
The thieves robbed the armored Brink’s truck around 2am on July 11 at a Flying J truck stop along Interstate 5 near Grapevine – an unincorporated community in the San Joaquin Valley – in just 27 minutes. The burglars managed to bypass the truck’s locking mechanism undetected and then loaded the gems into storage containers before hauling them away, law enforcement sources allege.
Investigators believe ‘several thieves had to be involved’ in the heist, which left eighteen victims suffering a loss of ‘multi-millions.’ The merchandise had been loaded onto the truck the night before following an exhibit hosted by the International Gem and Jewelry Show in San Mateo, south of San Francisco. It was heading to the Pasadena Convention Center. Police are still probing how the thieves got into the truck and whether or not they knew about its valuable contents ahead of the theft. Pictured: Some of the jewelry believed to have been stolen.
Law enforcement sources told The Los Angeles Times that two armed guards left the big rig at the truck stop in the early hours of July 11. The group of thieves then quickly broke into the truck, entered its tractor-trailer and started unloading containers holding jewelry, gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and lots of luxury designer watches, including Rolexes.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Maj or Crimes Bureau Sgt. Michael Mileski declined to describe the locking mechanism but stated it ‘would not be exceedingly difficult to crack.’ He also noted from the outside it wouldn’t have appeared the truck was carrying riches, but guards openly carrying firearms while driving the vehicle could have tipped off a watcher-by.
FBI agents and major crimes investigators at the sheriff’s office have searched the Flying J for clues, interviewed potential witnesses and reviewed security footage from the truck stop. Milkeski declined to reveal further information about the case, saying: ‘Obviously, we aren’t about to say what we have at this stage.’ Pictured: One of the stolen items.
Initial estimates indicated $100 million worth of jewels were taken, despite the truck only having been insured for less than $10 million. ‘We are talking multi millions here. It is a huge amount of money,’ MIleski stated.
International Gem and Jewelry Show president Arnold Duke revealed the truck (file photo) was transporting many 70 to 100-pound storage containers housing gems and jewelry. Previous reports indicated the thieves took between 25 and 30 bags, containing an unknown number of individual pieces. ‘We are looking at more than $100 million in documented losses,’ Duke said. ‘This was an absolutely huge crime. One of the largest jewelry heists ever. We are talking gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and loads of luxury watches.’
He added: ‘There were 15 exhibitors each with $5 [million] to $10 million in merchandise. These are small businesses with their entire wealth vested in that truck. It has destroyed them financially and it affected their health in some cases.’
Although the loss was massive, Duke noted the thieves did not manage to take all the valuables from the truck. Brandy Swanson, the exhibition’s director, explained shortly after the theft that even though their jewels are quite expensive, most vendors who travel between jewelry shows typically underinsure their merchandise because they can’t afford to insure it fully. ‘That’s where the discrepancy comes in. These are mom-and-pop operators,’ Swanson said. ‘They’re devastated. Some of these people have lost their entire livelihoods.’
Duke wouldn’t discuss security measures at the show, but did note that all people are photographed as they enter the facility. He also claimed merchandise is typically transported in a semi with a bulletproof cab, equipped with tracking and elaborate camera systems. The vehicle is also driven by armed guards and its exact route is kept secret. Officials, who have stated the thieves likely tracked the truck from San Mateo, are probing everyone with knowledge of the route.
Flying J’s parent company has requested surveillance video from the travel center – which is open 24/7 – in attempt to help law enforcement with their investigation. Brink’s issued a statement shortly after the theft, stating: ‘We are working with law enforcement, and we will fully reimburse our customers for the value of their assets that were stolen, in accordance with the terms of our contract.’ Additionally, insurance underwriters claim truck stop cargo thefts are ‘relatively common.’ Cargo theft is a ‘massive criminal enterprise’ in the Los Angeles area and, last year alone, saw more than $57 million in cargo truck thefts. California is also the top state for cargo snatches.
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