By Brecken Branstrator
Los Angeles—A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has indicted five members of a robbery crew who allegedly netted $1 million in jewelry through a series of “well-planned” heists.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the group committed “sophisticated” heists by following wholesale jewelers—traveling jewelry salespeople or those exhibiting at jewelry trade shows—and bank customers, at times for days, and then robbing them.

The thieves stole more than $1 million worth of jewelry and tens of thousands of dollars in cash over the past 18 months.

The five defendants have been identified as: 
— Federico Santiago Quiroz Lucca, 51, of Los Angeles;
— Roberto Melendez Falcon, 51, of Los Angeles;
— Roberto Alonso Castellanos, 48, of Pomona, California;
— Jose Oscar Cupitre Nuñez, 47, of Australia; and
— Jose Manuel Lopez Molina, 45, of Colombia.

Each man is charged with participating in a conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery. Lucca, the crew’s alleged leader, and Nuñez also both face a count of interference with commerce by robbery.

According to an affidavit, the defendants surveilled and and then robbed jewelry salespeople and bank customers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver between October 2017 and April 2019.

Lucca allegedly led and organized the crew’s activities, enlisting help from Colombian nationals, who traveled to Los Angeles to take part.

Court documents show the heists all followed a similar pattern. A member of the crew known as a “scout” would identify a victim who was likely to be carrying jewelry or cash. The victims typically were doing business at standalone jewelry stores or in malls in Orange County, California, the Jewelry District in downtown Los Angeles, or at jewelry trade shows.

The scout would then follow the victim and wait for an opportunity when they could rob her or him.

The group allegedly followed victims to locations like gas stations and hotels, and then employed a ruse—such as puncturing their car tires and then posing as a Good Samaritan—or simply used force to rob them.

For example, court papers state that on Feb. 8, 2018, Lucca spent four hours following a traveling jewelry salesman who was making rounds to jewelry stores in Orange County.

When he returned to his car after a stop in Cypress, he was violently pushed from behind and he fell into his car door. The thieves made off with his bag containing approximately $400,000 in jewelry.

All five men are currently in federal custody after being arrested in April. They are scheduled for arraignment in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles today.

If convicted, Lucca and Nuñez would face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison, and the others would face statutory maximum sentences of 20 years in prison.

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.