On July 31, ABC newsmagazine 20/20 devoted its entire show to the story of a gang that robbed millions from 27 jewelers in 18 months and was caught in part because members flaunted their new wealth on social media.
The gang baffled police at first because it had no discernible MO and hit targets in 27 states. The heists were planned with precision; in one case, members escaped from an island with a fleet of jet skis.
“This was unusual, as usually gangs have the same MO, like they just do smash-and-grabs,” John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance, tells JCK. “It took a while for everyone to figure out it was the same gang.”
Ex-con Michael Young was considered the group’s brains and ringleader. He typically sat outside the stores being robbed, coordinating members’ movements via mobile phone. Young would typically case the stores beforehand, posing as a customer while taking note of the store’s security systems. He told gang members he’d fine-tuned all the thefts with such precision they had zero chance of getting caught.
The gang included a getaway driver, who typically sat at the wheel of a stolen car, and second-in-command Ernest Remor, who also waited outside and was known as the “hero stopper”: His job was to take down anyone who tried to stop the thief.
In one of its first robberies, the gang stuck up Vero Beach, Fla., jeweler Lou Wilson with a stun gun. “They started out of the office and looked back at me and said, ‘Sorry man, I really need the money,’ ” Wilson told the show. “And it was kind of a bizarre thing to say.”
The gang’s downfall began when police identified the man who committed a grab-and-run at a Portland, Ore., jewelry store as Victor Lupis, who was already on probation for assault. After Lupis was caught and left in jail by his comrades, he confessed and named the rest of the gang members.
Portland police looked up the names on social media and found that the gang members had posted pictures of themselves sporting luxury clothes and enjoying fancy trips. One photo showed Young resting his head on a pile of money. By tracking their photos on social media, police could match the members with the robberies.
During a Tampa, Fla., robbery, a saleswoman noted that one gang member, Jack Cannon, seemed nervous when asking to see two diamonds, and she declined to show them to him. He showed the saleswoman his gun, swiped some diamonds, and ran out of the store, leaving fingerprints on the door.
Police tracked down Cannon at a nearby house and charged him. He made bond, didn’t show up for court, and the robbery spree continued.
As the thefts multiplied, authorities worked with their counterparts in different jurisdictions to piece together the puzzle.
The end finally came when Remor committed a grab-and-run at a Oregon jeweler but left a wine bottle with his fingerprint on it as well as a business card with the number of a prepaid cell phone he bought at a local Shopko. By looking at the store’s video footage, detectives were able to track Remor and Young to a home near the store.
The gang is currently serving jail terms ranging from two to 20 years.
Also caught in the gang’s downfall was Philadelphia jeweler Eric Janovsky, who received a seven-and-a-half-month jail term for his role fencing the crew’s diamonds. He had faced up to 10 years. His store has since been closed, the show said.
JCK has tips on how jewelers can avoid robberies here.
Those with cable TV subscriptions can see the entire story here.