The end comes for a gang of thieves

Prosecutors close the book on nine men accused of committing heists from Florida to New York to Texas, the Tampa Tribune reports.

 

For four years in the mid-1990s, Paul Mathieson, Alfredo Carratala and their gang of thieves roamed the country, stealing millions in cash, gems and guns from banks, jewelry stores and pawnshops, authorities told the newspaper.

Mathieson and Carratala became the last of the band to plead guilty to conspiracy and racketeering charges, according to a plea agreement filed this week in Tampa federal court.

The nine were all indicted by a federal grand jury in 1998. Mathieson and Carratala pleaded guilty Friday, but the agreements weren’t made public until Monday.

Mathieson, considered the ringleader because he handpicked the crew in the early 1990s, faces up to 20 years in federal prison, as does Carratala. A sentencing date has not been set.

The indictment links the defendants to a $ 1.5 million heist at Florida Discount Jewelry in Winter Park in February 1995, the theft of an ATM at GTE Federal Credit Union in Largo in January 1998 and a 1997 break-in at 49th Street Pawn and Gun in Pinellas Park and other burglaries in the Tampa Bay area.

The bold thieves cased their targets weeks before the heists and occasionally flew to random cities to throw police surveillance off their trail, the indictment states.

Federal prosecutors have demanded restitution totaling $ 5.7 million and Mathieson has agreed to forfeit any property gained from the thievery. Prosecutors also have agreed to drop several racketeering charges against Mathieson and Carratala in exchange for the guilty pleas.

With some of the money they made from the heists, the gang bought drugs that later were sold for a larger profit, the indictment states.

Jewelry stores weren’t the only targets. The indictment states that the gang hit pawnshops and sometimes used bulldozers to bowl over ATM machines and bash down storefronts to gain entry to businesses.

They stole money from banks and credit unions; guns and jewelry from pawnshops and even pilfered cash from a toy store in Clearwater.

They hit a bingo parlor in Tampa and once staged a break-in at an antiques business in Seminole just to gauge police response, federal documents state.

Their jobs stretched from Springfield, Mass., to Edison, N.J., to Miami and McAllen, Texas, and points in between.

Prosecutors said the biggest heist was at Phoenix Jewelry Manufacturing in Miami. The thieves made off with $ 2.6 million in jewelry in March 1997. Two years earlier, in February 1995, they hit Florida Discount Jewelry in Winter Park for $ 1.5 million in gold, jewelry and coins, prosecutors said.

The crew members, other than Mathieson, 41, and Carratala, 37, already have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, federal records show.

Mathieson, who said he was unemployed and homeless on his jail booking sheet, was a noted alarm and safe specialist, records state. He has remained at Morgan Street Jail since his arrest in 1998. Bail was never set. In the early 1990s, while in prison, Mathieson recruited those who were to become part of his crew, records state.

Upon his release in 1994, Mathieson led the gang in jobs at jewelry stores up and down the East Coast, records state.

In January 1998, authorities suspected the group of using a Caterpillar bulldozer to knock over an ATM machine in Clearwater and immediately put Carratala’s home in Seminole under surveillance. One night they watched as three men left the house, drove to a nearby bar and dumped three garbage bags into a trash bin.

The bags contained receipts from the pilfered ATM, records state.

Two months later, authorities got a tip the gang was going to rob jewelry stores in Texas and investigators managed to put a homing device on the vehicle the gang was going to use.