Federal Grand Jury Indicts Alleged Robbery Crew in Well-Planned Jewelry Heists that Netted $1 Million in Stolen Goods
LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury today indicted five members of a robbery crew who allegedly committed sophisticated heists by following wholesale jewelers and bank customers – sometimes for days – and then robbing them, netting the thieves more than $1 million worth of jewelry and tens of thousands of dollars in cash over the past 18 months.
The five defendants, who all are in federal custody after being arrested earlier this month, each are charged with participating in a conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery. They are:
- Federico Santiago Quiroz Lucca, 51, of Los Angeles, the alleged ringleader of the scheme;
- Roberto Melendez Falcon, 51, of Los Angeles;
- Roberto Alonso Castellanos, 48, of Pomona;
- Jose Oscar Cupitre Nuñez, 47, of Australia; and
- Jose Manuel Lopez Molina, 45, of Colombia.
Lucca and Nuñez are also charged in a second count with interference with commerce by robbery.
According to an affidavit previously filed in this case, from October 2017 until April 2019, the defendants surveilled and conspired to rob a series of jewelry salespeople and bank customers in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the San Francisco Bay Area and Denver. Lucca allegedly led and organized the crew’s activities, enlisting help from several Colombian nationals who traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the conspiracy and robberies.
The various heists described in court documents followed a similar pattern: a member of the crew known as a “scout” identified a victim who was likely to be carrying jewelry or cash. The victims typically were jewelers conducting business at jewelry stores or malls in Orange County, the Jewelry District in downtown Los Angeles, or at various trade shows, the affidavit states. The “scout” followed the victim, who often was carrying large amounts of jewelry or cash, and would wait for an opportunity when the scout and co-conspirators could rob the jeweler.
The co-conspirators followed victims to locations such as gas stations and hotels, where the defendants allegedly used a ruse, such as puncturing a car tire, and then posed as a Good Samaritan, or simply used force, to rob the victims.
For example, on February 8, 2018, Lucca allegedly spent four hours following a traveling jewelry salesman making rounds on behalf of his employer to jewelry stores in Orange County. As the victim returned to his car after stopping in Cypress, he was violently pushed from behind, falling into his car door, and his bag containing approximately $400,000 in jewelry was stolen, court papers state.
In a January 2019 incident, a couple who operated a jewelry business in Connecticut was participating in a jewelry show at the Los Angeles Convention Center, when a man wearing a yellow and orange safety vest asked to help them pack up their belongings. According to an affidavit filed in this case, the man in the safety vest ended up pushing their large cart with all their belongings – including a bag containing approximately $400,000 in jewelry – and the bag was later discovered to be missing. Evidence subsequently developed by investigators determined that the robbery crew had tracked the victims for days.
Earlier this month, Lucca, Nuñez, and Molina were arrested in Northern California after they allegedly surveilled various locations, including jewelry stores, a residence, and the Santa Clara Convention Center, where a jewelry show was scheduled to occur, according to court documents.
Castellanos was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 12, and Falcon was arrested on April 13 in Los Angeles.
All five defendants are scheduled to be arraigned in United States District Court in Los Angeles on May 3.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted in this case, defendants Lucca and Nuñez would face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison, and the other defendants would face statutory maximum sentences of 20 years in prison.
This matter is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is receiving substantial assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Khaldoun Shobaki of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section and Joshua O. Mausner of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.