Action News Exclusive: FBI takes down jewelry theft ring

PHILADELPHIA - February 20, 2014

Eight suspects are in custody and Action News has the inside story on the federal indictments detailing the crimes.

July 2011, masked men walked right into a jewelry store at the King of Prussia mall. Using hammers, they smashed the cases and made off with a half million dollars in Rolex watches in 30 seconds.

The brazen robbery caught the attention of the FBI's violent crime task force in Philadelphia.

"When we saw that happen, it did catch our attention because it was violent. It was high-end jewelry, and it was in a shopping mall where there's a lot of citizens coming in and out," said Jim Tarasca, FBI.

Over the next two and half years, smash and grab robbers hit jewelry stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

The King of Prussia store was hit two more times.

A Wilmington jewelry store was robbed of nearly $4.5 million in jewelry including the Liberty Bell ruby valued at $2 million.

"It was a very violent robbery," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie McCall. "The store employees were zip tied and a gun was used."

On the case now, the FBI task force looked to the past and similar smash and grab crimes.

"We went back to the history. I would say the mid 90's till the end of the 90's there was a string of these similar type of robberies and we developed suspects through that," explained Officer John Benham, Philadelphia Police.

47-year-old Rufus Lawson's name came up.

Back in 1995, he was the man arrested inside a church during his wedding for a smash and grab robbery on Jewelers Row.

Now out of prison, Lawson was connected to other possible suspects, most with ties to Philadelphia's Brewerytown neighborhood.

What emerged, the FBI says, was an organization with leaders at the top, planners who plotted the robberies, and younger men who actually committed the crimes.

Thursday night, the 8 men the FBI considers essential to that operation are in custody awaiting a day in federal court.

"To know that these guys are indicted; they're locked up now. It is still an ongoing investigation. There's still work to do, but to get to this point this huge," said Tarasca.

Harvey Ravinsky owns Bernie Robbins Jewelers in Radnor, one of the stores targeted.

"They've done an amazing job. I've never seen such cooperation between different law enforcement agencies," said Harvey Rovinsky.

The FBI is crediting local police departments for helping to bring the suspects in.

If convicted, some of the suspects are looking at life behind bars.

As for the jewels, none of them, including the $2 million Liberty Bell ruby, have been recovered.

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