December 1, 2023


Shopping, Clothing & Fashion

Jeweler victimized in Brink’s heist: ‘I was torn apart’

The jewelry market is not as glitzy as it appears, specially for all those on the trade present circuit.

These jewelers travel from metropolis to town, offering their wares to wholesalers and shoppers at convention facilities crowded with booths beneath harsh gentle.

It was immediately after one particular these types of expo in San Mateo, Calif., when 14 of these organizations were victimized in the heist of a Brink’s big rig at a Grapevine truck prevent on July 11. The significant-profile crime at the Traveling J Travel Heart — which could be among the biggest jewelry thefts ever — has spotlighted their shut-knit environment.

In interviews with The Times, jewelers described a business built on handshake discounts, generous favors and very well-acquired belief. It’s function that hinges on artful salesmanship and needs extended days competing for clients — but also fosters a feeling of camaraderie amid jewelers who have made it a way of daily life. Now, on the other hand, the heist has upended this tightknit local community, decimating the 14 firms whose items was stolen in Lebec while en route to the L.A. location for one more trade show. The measurement of the haul is in dispute, with estimates ranging from significantly less than $10 million to a lot more than $100 million.

Just one of the victims, Jean Malki of Forty-Seventh & Fifth Inc., reported that telling his young children about the theft was the toughest thing he’s ever accomplished.

“They generally looked at me — I’m their hero, I’m the tricky guy,” he said. “I did not want to crack that graphic for them. So I instructed them: Everything’s gonna be Ok, but for now we’re going to have some changes. Within I was torn aside and devastated.”

Evidence photo provided by the FBI shows a sampling of the stolen items.

An proof photograph offered by the FBI demonstrates a sampling of jewelry taken in the Flying J heist in July.


The alleged circumstances of the heist have upset some of the jewelers, who questioned Brink’s efforts to safe their gems, gold, jewelry and watches. Soon after 2 a.m., robbers “cut away” the rear lock of the armored big rig and stole 22 massive bags of booty through a 27-minute period in which one of the motorists snoozed inside of the vehicle’s sleeping berth and the other was acquiring meals at the Flying J, the business has mentioned.

“How could this issue come about with Brink’s?” questioned Kenny Lee, one particular of the influenced jewelers and 1 of at the very least eight victims primarily based in Los Angeles County. “They were being not taking treatment of our products.”

Right before the Brink’s tractor-trailer departed for its doomed trip to the Southland, jewelers at the San Mateo County Event Centre had been alerted to a prospective security concern. Though jewelers had been packing up their booths at the summary of the honest July 10, a consultant of the Intercontinental Gem and Jewelry Present warned them around the loudspeakers that there were being “suspicious” folks outside the house the event heart and to be mindful of that when departing, according to 3 individuals who ended up there.

This kind of warnings are popular at the jewellery demonstrate, acquiring elevated in current decades, according to an employee of the corporation, who asked for anonymity above basic safety problems.

Arnold Duke, president of the jewelry clearly show, did not respond to job interview requests.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which is doing the job on the scenario with the FBI, so considerably has explained very little about the inquiry. Investigators consider that the heist was the work of subtle criminals, presented the lack of violence and the speed of the thieves’ get the job done, amongst other variables.

Jerry Kroll, legal professional for the 14 jewellery providers, explained that his clients are cooperating with the FBI and have furnished investigators with pictures of their stolen goods and, in one circumstance, handed on a idea that a jeweler obtained through voicemail. He declined to discuss aspects of the information and facts shared in the voicemail information.

The total value of the loot is the subject of two lawsuits submitted in August: one lodged by Brink’s from the affected jewelry providers, and yet another brought by the jewelers towards the Richmond, Va., security and logistics large.

Brink’s alleged in its lawsuit that the stolen goods experienced a declared complete value of $8.7 million — a figure it said was drawn from agreements signed by its jewellery organization buyers. The grievance seeks to limit any payout Brink’s could have to make to the jewelers to that volume, alleging they “substantially beneath-declared the benefit of their shipments.” (Some jewelers have reported they assigned their products reduced values than their truthful-sector fees to reduce shipping costs.)

The jewelry corporations alleged in their criticism versus Brink’s and other get-togethers that the unnamed tractor-trailer drivers’ perform was “grossly negligent” — and that “lax security” by the organization allowed the theft to happen. The lawsuit for alleged breach of deal and supplemental claims reported the jewelry companies’ products was worthy of about $100 million. It seeks at the very least $200 million in restitution and damages.

Kroll claimed that Brink’s really should provide a reward for the return of the stolen merchandise. His shoppers, he said, “are not in a fiscal position” to do so.

“Brink’s snoozed and their clients get rid of — they need to be the ones putting up the reward, not the victims, who have been wiped out,” he explained. “My shoppers assumed their products have been in safe hands with Brink’s.”

Connelia Savage, Brink’s common counsel for North The usa, mentioned in a statement to The Periods that “loss incidents are scarce,” and it is the company’s apply “to reimburse our shoppers for properly submitted promises up to the comprehensive declared worth of their home.”

“We do it promptly, so that our customers can get back to enterprise with small disruption,” stated Savage, also a senior vice president at Brink’s. “We right away contacted the Brink’s customers impacted by this incident to start off the reimbursement approach.”

Inside of the organization

The Flying J heist has uncovered a quirk of the jewellery trade that is more complicating issues for all those whose precious wares ended up stolen.

The Flying J Travel Center, just west of the 5 Freeway in Lebec.

The Traveling J Vacation Middle, just west of the 5 Freeway in Lebec, was the web-site of a Brink’s truck jewellery heist in July.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Instances)

It is frequent exercise, jewelers stated, to get hold of stock with no paying out for it upfront. The strategy, which is akin to consignment, is known as getting “on memo,” and it makes it possible for jewellery providers to get on pricey things with no paying out for the products until it has bought.

The decline of the jewelers’ inventory has been compounded by the actuality that in at minimum four of the cases, the stolen merchandise involved individuals held “on memo.” Lee, who owns Supreme Gems Corp., is 1 these sufferer. Beyond the monetary problems, he concerns about his standing in the sector.

“With my track record — designed for so extended — persons rely on me,” stated Lee, who started Supreme Gems’ predecessor enterprise in 1992. “Vendors really do not even talk to me for dollars right absent: They give me goods on consignment. Now, I have to spend them. I don’t feel very good. This is not my usual daily life. I can not convey my facial area downtown and permit people today see me.”

Lee mentioned that the price of his stolen inventory — 1,300-additionally things his company amassed about around 30 many years — was at the very least $12 million. He is nonetheless calculating what he thinks to be their reasonable-market place value, but by his estimation, Supreme Gems’ shed goods by yourself dwarfs the $8.7-million valuation that Brink’s has attributed to all of the stolen shipments mixed.

But, like some of the other victims, Lee gave the things he delivered with Brink’s a declared price of $400,000. “We hardly ever imagined to insure it for extra for the reason that it was so high-priced, so expensive,” he reported.

With the loss of their merchandise, some of the jewelers are forgoing future trade demonstrates. They are lacking out not only on the business enterprise possibilities but also the fellowship that arrives with their line of function. Some of the trade demonstrates cater to the typical community, and other people are open up only to wholesale purchasers. The exhibits, Malki explained, appeal to an eclectic milieu: “You see the $5 people there, and you see the $500,000 persons there.”

“There is always excitement,” he claimed.

For jewelers who’ve grown accustomed to touring for do the job, currently being homebound is a precarious turn of gatherings.

“I only function tricky, and if I am not performing I will be at dwelling — and so lonely,” explained sufferer jeweler Amy Kit Tsing Leung, who operates Hawaiian Patterns Jewelry Inc. with her husband. “I want to operate my company and function usually. But now … every little thing is long gone.”

Leung claimed that the price of her stolen items was at the very least $700,000, and she is even now calculating its reasonable-market place value. Like Lee, she assigned her merchandise a declared worth of $400,000 for the reason that a increased sum would make it “too highly-priced to ship.”

At 83, Leung, whose small business is based in the San Francisco Bay Location, is amongst the oldest jewelers to journey from city to town to showcase wares at jewelry and gem expositions. Now, the around 40-12 months veteran of the marketplace isn’t positive what she’ll do.

Her dismay stems in element from the point that she experienced been supporting other veteran jewelers who no more time could journey for the exhibits — in some situations because of to the COVID-19 pandemic — by selling their goods for them. And their things had been element of Hawaiian Layouts Jewelry’s stolen cache.

“They trustworthy me,” she stated. “Many, numerous days, I cannot rest…. When I close my eyes, I feel about it way too substantially.”

Soldiering on

Transferring ahead hasn’t been quick, numerous jewelers claimed. Those who have decided to maintain their jewellery organizations open now are tasked with rebuilding their inventories at a time when their funds could be restricted and the concern of misplaced “on memo” things looms.

And irrespective of whether it’s relating the episode to family members or tallying misplaced inventory, unpleasant reminders of the heist abound.

Malki, co-owner of Forty-Seventh & Fifth because 2012, mentioned that his enterprise misplaced far more than 650 parts of jewellery, watches and other objects. Amongst them were being a trove of substantial-value timepieces, which includes about 30 Rolex watches and many others manufactured by Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, Bulgari, Franck Muller and Corum.

The declared worth of his stolen wares was $100,000, Malki said. He declined to disclose the truthful-current market value of those goods but said it was “way more” than the declared value.

Malki gave The Moments an interview above lunch in Pasadena and retained his composure during the assembly — right up until he thorough the conversation he’d experienced about the theft with his young children. Malki struggled to have his thoughts as he shared his 7-calendar year-outdated daughter’s try to cheer him up immediately after his disclosure of the criminal offense.

“She stated, ‘Dad, really do not get worried, I’m gonna have a lemonade stand,’” Malki said. “She gave me the most significant hug.”

Part of a jeweler's inventory.

The stock of a jeweler whose wares had been photographed at the Global Gem and Jewelry Clearly show this yr. Nearly all of the goods was afterwards stolen in the Flying J heist.


For Lee, the Traveling J heist introduced back again darkish reminiscences of a further reduction of his inventory: In 1996, he was adopted home from get the job done and robbed at gunpoint.

It was, Lee explained, a “total reduction.”

At the time, Lee did not have insurance policies — he reported he could not afford to pay for it — and also lost merchandise he experienced held on memo. “I owed funds in the market,” he mentioned. “I had to develop my popularity and enterprise all over again.”

But Lee said that elder statesmen of the L.A. jewelry trade — amongst them individuals who’d presented him products on memo — came to his aid. “They had been nice,” he recalled. “They claimed, ‘Kenny, you don’t have products, you are youthful. Whilst you misplaced every thing, you pay back me regardless of what you misplaced later on on, but I will however give you goods.’”

This time, nevertheless, the Traveling J heist is a significantly larger decline. And the theft of Supreme Gems’ stock has compelled Lee to forgo participating in the Global Gem and Jewellery Demonstrate, which returns to the San Mateo County Celebration Centre on Friday.

“How can I [attend] the display correct now?” he requested.

Malki said he will be there, detailing that he needs to “put foodstuff on the desk,” and also log encounter time with his consumers. “If there is a significant hole between you and your prospects,” he explained, “you just lose them.”

But returning to San Mateo will be difficult.

“It helps make me sense like I’ve been violated,” he said. “To go back again to that scene — I never know how I’m going to deal with it.”

He paused right before introducing: “I really do not imagine I have a choice.”