By Holly Matkin and Christopher Berg
Los Angeles, CA – Authorities have confirmed that a Brink’s driver was asleep in a tractor-trailer as thieves brazenly stole up to $100 million in jewelry from the back during a heist in July.
The truck was parked at a truck stop at a time, and the other driver was inside of the building getting food, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We are talking multi millions here,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office (LACSO) Major Crimes Bureau Sergeant Michael Mileski initially told the Los Angeles Times. “It is a huge amount of money.”
“We are looking at more than $100 million in documented losses,” International Gem and Jewelry Show President Arnold Duke added. “This was an absolutely huge crime. One of the largest jewelry heists ever. We are talking gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and loads of luxury watches.”
Duke’s exhibitors had just wrapped up a show in San Mateo shortly before the heist occurred.
Most of their watches, jewelry, and gems were loaded into 70- to 100-pound plastic tubs and loaded onto a Brink’s truck to be moved to the next show in Pasadena.
“There were 15 exhibitors each with $5 [million] to $10 million in merchandise,” Duke told the Los Angeles Times. “These are small businesses with their entire wealth vested in that truck.”
The heist occurred at approximately 2 a.m. on July 11, after two armed guards parked the tractor-trailer at a Flying J truck stop on Frazier Mountain Park Road along Interstate 5 in an area known as “The Grapevine,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
One of the guards was asleep in the vehicle’s sleeper berth as the other guard stopped for food and did not alert the sleeping guard that he had stopped.
Department of Transportation (DOT) rules do not allow a driver’s time in a sleeper berth to be interrupted if it is to count for their required 10 hours of off-duty time each day, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The DOT rules may explain why the driver didn’t alert his partner that he was leaving the truck.
A group of thieves managed to bypass the truck’s intricate locking mechanism and made off with much of the valuable load.
A lawsuit filed by against Brink’s by the jewelers allege that the truck was unarmored, parked in a poorly lit location, positioned out the immediate vicinity of security cameras, and had the back door facing away from the building, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We believe several thieves had to be involved,” Sgt. Mileski said.
When the guard returned from getting food, he discovered that the truck had been breached, CBS News reported.
The truck did not have any obvious markings to alert potential thieves about its contents, and investigators are still working to determine whether the group followed the truck to the location or if it happened to be a crime of opportunity, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The guards were openly carrying firearms, which Sgt. Mileski said could have potentially drawn the attention of someone who may have been keeping an eye out for trucks carrying valuable loads.
Duke said that many of the diamonds and watches are engraved with microscopic serial numbers to make them more trackable, KABC reported.
He said the show has utilized Brink’s for transports for decades, and that they have never had any problems in the past.
“Their track record with us has been perfect,” Duke told KABC. “It’s really incomprehensible.”
Brink’s claimed the heist was worth slightly less than $8.7 million based off of insurance, but Duke said the figure is far higher.
“[The owners] underinsure because the extra insurance is very, very expensive, and because everybody trusts Brink’s one million percent and they’ve never lost anything of ours after all these years,” he told KABC. “People are just very, very comfortable.”
Sgt. Mileski agreed that the $10 million figure was just a starting point, and that the total loss is likely much higher, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A lawsuit against Brink’s alleges that a Brink’s employee told jewelers to under-declare the value of their good to make them more affordable to transport.
That employee is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Duke said the theft financially destroyed many of his exhibitors.
“It affected their health in some cases,” he added.
Anyone who enters an International Gem and Jewelry Show is photographed and the vehicles used to transport such valuables typically have satellite tracking, armed guards, elaborate camera systems, and a bulletproof cab, according to Duke.
The exact route is kept secret as an additional security measure, he said.
Sgt. Mileski said investigators have reviewed security footage and interviewed potential witnesses, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also been speaking with anyone who knew about the load being moved.
“Obviously, we aren’t about to say what we have at this stage,” Sgt. Mileski added.