Arizona shop owner arrested in gem switch

Tucson, Ariz., police arrested a jewelry shop owner on fraud and theft charges, saying he switched out customers’ real diamonds for fake ones, officials said.

Cesar A. Garcia, 59, was arrested Thursday after police began an investigation at Cesar’s Gold Creations, 3986 N. Oracle Road, Tucson, reports the Arizona Daily Star.

A 79-year-old woman told police she took a diamond ring to the store for cleaning in mid-December, and the $15,000 diamond was switched with a cubic zirconia, said Sgt. Judy Altieri, a police spokeswoman told the newspaper.

The woman, whose name was not released by police, chose the store because of a free cleaning advertisement, she reportedly said. The cleaning took about 30 minutes, and the woman and her husband thought the stone looked different after it was cleaned. They took the ring to another jeweler, who told them the stone was not a diamond, Altieri reportedly said.

Tucson police conducted an undercover operation at the jewelry shop, she reportedly said.

Undercover officers took a ring with a $12,000 diamond to the store for cleaning, and Garcia cleaned the ring in the rear working area, she said.

Another jeweler told officers the stone in the ring was not the $12,000 diamond, but a cubic zirconia, Altieri said.

Garcia was booked into the Pima County Jail on charges of fraudulent schemes and artifices and theft over $10,000, the newspaper reported. He was released on the promise to appear in court.

Garcia pleaded guilty in 1999 to trafficking in stolen property, according to court records, the newspaper reported. He was sentenced to three years probation, but in July 2001 Garcia was sent to jail for probation violations. According to court records, his jail term was completed Feb. 1, 2002.