Four years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced the arrest of five men in conjunction with the robbery of Fairfield, Conn.–based Lenox Jewelers. The gang members ended up pleading guilty and were sentenced earlier this year.
This case was noteworthy because this wasn’t your ordinary group of jewel thieves. This was a nasty bunch that perpetrated a particularly nasty crime, involving the kidnapping of two store employees.
Jennifer Berry, an FBI special agent with the bureau’s New Haven office, gave JCK an inside look at how this dangerous crew was brought down.
Timothy Forbes, now 35, was the group’s apparent leader. Forbes had made something of a career of robbing jewelry stores, starting with standard smash-and-grabs, progressing to stickups.
“In one of the robberies, a store owner got shot,” says Berry. “He then realized this isn’t the way to do it.”
So he and his gang hatched a scarier scheme: They would kidnap store employees and force them to let them into the store after hours.
In April 2013, Forbes and four others wearing masks and gloves and armed with guns accosted two Lenox Jewelers employees as they headed from their car to a company-rented apartment. They bound them, as well as two others who were in the apartment, and demanded the employees drive them to the jeweler.
At the store, Forbes’ crew forced the employees to disable the store’s alarm and open up the safes and cases. They stole $3 million in jewelry and watches, and quickly fled, leaving the two victims bound inside the store. The victims soon freed themselves and called 911.
Image from security footage
On its face, the crooks had carried out a well-planned crime. They wore masks the whole time and used the victim’s car to get away.
One detail made this case unique and particularly frightening. The gang members had placed a GPS under one victim’s car to discover where he lived.
Yet that turned out to be the gang’s undoing. Following the robbery, police canvassed the employee’s neighbors to see if anyone had seen anything. One had.
“A neighbor said, ‘I don’t know if this is important but one night I couldn’t sleep and I was up at 1:30 in the morning and I see a guy underneath my neighbor’s car,’” Berry recalls.
The neighbor started calling 911, but then the car left. A half hour later, it returned. With its out-of-state plates, the neighbor thought it might be selling drugs. This time, he didn’t call 911, but jotted down the car’s license plate. He still had it when he was questioned.
That car turned out to be a rental registered to Forbes’ girlfriend. By accessing the call log on the neighbor’s phone, the FBI determined when the gang member came to the victim’s neighborhood—and established that he was removing the GPS from the victim’s car.
“From there,” says Berry, “it was just a cell phone case.”
Berry says that she’s confident the gang would have been busted eventually, but this made everything much quicker. The gang was arrested six weeks after the crime.
She adds that while the experience was and remains traumatizing for the victims, no one was injured, and the employees did the right thing by not resisting the criminals.
“The most important thing is your life,” she says. “If you are taken by someone with a gun you should do whatever they tell you to.”
In January, Forbes pled guilty to kidnapping, robbery, and using a gun in the commission of a crime. Five months later, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison. The other members of his gang also received stiff sentences.
As for the jewels, only some items were recovered. Forbes’ crew apparently liked to live big, and liked to gamble.
Still, Berry calls this a good case. “These were dangerous guys,” she says.
Some of the recovered items
As for what jewelers can do to avoid being the victim of this kind of crime, the Jewelers’ Security Alliance offers the following tips:
– Vary your route and time when traveling between your home and your jewelry business. Occasionally check to see if you are being followed.
– Be watchful if your residence or business is being cased. A possible red flag: A car with one or more persons, sitting outside your business or home.
– Equip your home with appropriate locks, alarms, and lighting.
– Train members of your family and household on proper security procedures: Don’t open the door to unknown persons; use caution with delivery personnel (e.g., make sure they use a company vehicle); watch for suspicious persons who could be casing; and have a household security code that can communicate danger to other family members.
– Do not have a large or visible safe at home.
– Do not bring jewelry merchandise home.
– Keep your car key fob and cell phone by your night table. If you have suspicions of possible intruders, hit the panic alarm on your car key fob.
– Dogs can help alert you and possibly scare away intruders.
– Limit the amount of information that you post on social media. Don’t post family photos, pictures of your residence, pictures of your vehicle, or information about your location, vacations, or travel plans.
And if you’re nervous about being tracked by GPS, you should regularly inspect under your car or get a GPS detector.
(Images from FBI.gov)