The FBI is investigating whether a violent, well-organized ring of South American jewelry thieves is expanding its operations away from large metropolitan areas and hitting targets in smaller cities in the South, the Washington Post reports. In Little Rock, diamond merchant Faramarz Hakimian, 48, of New York pulled into the parking lot of an upscale strip mall July 29, and two masked men jumped out of a car behind him, smashed his car windows, pulled a gun, and told him to lie down on the seat. The assailants took his keys and stole a satchel with half a million dollars’ worth of jewelry from the car’s back seat, all in broad daylight in front of witnesses. The attack may be related to similar robberies of jewelry salesmen in Pine Bluff, Ar., on June 26 and in Nashville on June 24.
The FBI says “South American Theft Groups,” made up largely of Colombians, started burglarizing hotels and cars during jewelry trade shows in the early 1980s and have moved on to sophisticated surveillance and violent attacks against jewelry salesmen. The Jewelers’ Security Alliance reports that overall jewelry industry losses to crime have dropped steadily for the past five years, with $97 million in losses in 2007, compared with $151 million in 2003. Off-premise robberies of traveling salespeople were up in 2007, with $35 million in losses in 177 incidents, compared with $21 million in 155 incidents in 2006. Salespeople are most often robbed in parking lots or airports after their assailants follow them from jewelry shows.