LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Calif. -- The FBI and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department are investigating a multi-million dollar jewelry heist that many only hear about in movies.
Luxury items including gems, jewelry and more were loaded onto a Brink's truck that was later broken into while it was pulled over at a rest stop.
Arnold Duke, president of the International Gem and Jewelry Show, confirmed that Brink's contracted individually with each exhibitor to move their merchandise from an event in the Bay Area to Pasadena in Southern California.
"It did leave San Mateo on Sunday night, destined for Los Angeles and the Pasadena Convention Center," Duke told our sister station KGO. "Sometime on Monday morning, they were robbed."
On July 11, authorities responded to the Flying J rest stop and gas station in the unincorporated area of Lebec, according to the LASD. Deputies arrived in response to a burglary of a cargo container.
Duke said Brink's has long-helped exhibitors transport their valuable items.
"They're the largest carrier of valuables in the world," Duke said. "They even carry all the money that's printed at the U.S. Mint to the Federal Reserve. So there's no question we trust them 1,000,000%."
According to Duke, big-ticket items taken last Monday include diamonds, gold and luxury-brand watches.
"There was a large number of Rolex, Cartier and Franck Muller watches. These are luxury watches that sell $10,000 and up," he said. "Every one of those has a unique serial number that can't be erased. So all of those watches are traceable."
Former FBI Agent and Private Investigator with Cannon Street Inc., Rick Smith, said this sophisticated crime is often systematic.
"There's a design. There's a plan to get rid of the merchandise right away," Smith said. "As soon as they stole it, they got rid of it, so that they couldn't be identified as possessing it."
LASD confirmed this was not a typical Brink's armored car seen in a city environment. Instead, they said the trailer was targeted near Frazier Park in the mountains along I-5.
"These things used to be so prolific," Smith told KGO. "One of the most dangerous jobs in the world was being a Brink's driver and a guard."
Historically, he said they have been targeted for what they transport.
"It diminished somewhat through the years, but there's nothing safe about those jobs. They got a lot of money there," Smith said.
When it comes to value in this case, there is some discrepancy in worth.
Brink's said in-part: "According to the information the customers provided to us before they shipped their items, the total value of the missing items is less than $10 million. 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."
However, Duke said exhibitors estimate the value at up to $150 million.
"It's a common practice for these jewelers to underinsure," he said. "Simply because if you insure everything you have, it's very, very expensive. I'm talking about thousands of dollars every week, and they're on the road 40-some weeks a year."
Duke added, "They've been handling this merchandise for many, many years with no problems, no losses. It's easy to understand why people under insure."
At least 16 exhibitors, part of this weekly traveling show, are now out millions in luxury items -- their livelihood, Duke said.
He said between 30-40% of the inventory was taken from the truck, with a majority still delivered to Pasadena.
"Those fortunate exhibitors that did not have a loss got all of their merchandise, and they were able to participate in the show," Duke said. "While 15 or 16. Other companies could not because they had nothing to sell."
The FBI is assisting in the investigation. LASD said Brink's and the crew of the vehicle are cooperating with officials.
"I doubt that a Brink's employee is involved in something like this, because it's so obvious," Smith said. "If they were, then they could be identified."
Duke said, "FBI and police investigators, detectives were at our show in Pasadena this weekend interviewing everybody, including my employees because anybody that was there could potentially be some kind of suspect."
He said the outcome of this case has the potential to impact the entire jewelry industry.
LASD Major Crimes Bureau (MCB) Cargo Cat's and Metro Detail investigators, with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are conducting a criminal investigation into the theft and are seeking the public's assistance in identifying the suspect(s) responsible for this crime and to locate the stolen jewelry and gemstones.
Anyone with information or questions related to this investigation should contact Sergeant Mileski at MCB, or if you would like to remain anonymous, you may call Crime Stoppers at (800)222-8477, or online at www.p3tips.com.