Industry / Security & Crime

How a GPS-Enabled Rolex Led to the Capture of Alleged Jewelry Thieves


A GPS tracking device in the packaging of a stolen Rolex led to the indictment of five alleged members of a robbery crew who stuck up a California jewelry store in March, according to a recently unsealed affidavit filed in California federal court.

Sunia Mafileo Faavesi, Ryan Kentrell Montgomery, Paul Christopher Tonga, John Ioane Tupou, and Kyle Vehikite have all been charged with conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce for their alleged roles in the March 17 robbery of Heller Jewelers in San Ramon, Calif., said a statement from the U.S. attorney for California’s Northern District.

All the defendants were arrested last week except Tupou, who remains at large.

The suspects got away with $1.1 million in jewels, including several Rolex watches, in one minute. The robbery took place at a busy mall in the middle of the afternoon and resulted in multiple bystanders fleeing the scene.

The GPS tracker was “embedded in the cushion of the packaging” of one of the Rolexes, said the affidavit, signed by a special agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).

“Immediately following the theft, the tracking device began recording GPS locations and disseminating that information to officers and dispatchers. For the hours that followed, the device sent near real-time GPS location data of its current location.”

Officers of the San Ramon Police Department followed the tracker in multiple vehicles as the watch was taken through different counties before its battery died, the affidavit said.

The investigators also used witness accounts, surveillance footage, and automated license plate reader technology to track the suspects, according to the ATF agent.

The robbers were helped by a supposed “law enforcement insider”—who reportedly worked as a clerk in the local police department and gave information to a suspect via text. Authorities are said to be investigating her.

Among the things that intrigued investigators: a visit to a nearby casino. “Based on my training and experience, I know individuals often use casinos to clean illicit proceeds,” said the affidavit. “This is done by exchanging illicit proceeds through the casino’s cage for playing chips. After playing a few games (gambling), the individuals will cash out the chips, having now obtained new currency provided by the casino.”

The government has asked for the defendants to be detained prior to their trial. Their lawyers could not be reached for comment.

Top: The robbery at Heller Jewelers (photo from U.S. government legal papers)

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By: Rob Bates

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