Brink’s driver was asleep inside truck during jewelry heist

When thieves broke into a Brink’s tractor and stole millions of dollars worth of jewelry during a late-night raid at a rest stop on Interstate 5 last month, one of the drivers was asleep in the vehicle’s bunk, the company said.

That disclosure was made in a lawsuit brought by Brink’s against 13 jewelers whose merchandise the company shipped from San Mateo to the LA area for the International Gem and Jewelry Show.

Brink claims the driver “did not see or hear anything unusual” during a 27-minute period during which the trailer’s plastic seal was removed and its rear lock “cut away.” At the time, the other armed driver of the large truck was at the rest stop getting groceries, the company claimed. A total of 22 large bags containing precious stones, gold and other valuables were stolen in the July 11 incident at the Flying J Travel Center in Lebec.

Law enforcement officials have provided scant details about their investigation into the publicized Flying-J robbery that devastated the sparsely populated Grapevine area where the rest stop is located. But investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who are working with the FBI, say they received video footage of the incident.

“You can’t move 100 feet without being caught on video,” said Sgt. Michael Mileski, who declined to reveal details of the footage. He confirmed that one of the tractor-trailer drivers was asleep in the vehicle when the crime was committed and attributed the information to Brink’s drivers.

The FBI shared several photos of the stolen items with the Times, including large, loose gemstones and dozens of jeweled rings in display cases. A spokeswoman for the agency said the images showed “a selection of the stolen items.”

The loss of the valuable goods devastated the jewelers, according to a legal act. And the owners of one of the stores, LA-based Lam’s Jade Center, wrote in a letter to Brink’s that their “entire life savings have been completely wiped out.”

“No goods, no business, no money received, we are in a terrible situation,” wrote Leona and Paul Wong. The letter was provided to The Times by the owner’s lawyer, who said it was sent to Brink’s. “We are losing our customers, our goodwill and our credibility with our creditors. These last few weeks have been the worst time of our lives.”

She and other jewelers filed a lawsuit Monday against Brink’s and other parties questioning the company’s efforts to protect their valuable cargo. The jewelry companies – which are seeking at least $100 million in reimbursement and at least $100 million in damages – claimed the semi-trailer truck was unarmored and parked in a “poorly lit” spot inside the Flying J. It was positioned outside of “close proximity” to surveillance cameras, the complaint said, with the trailer’s rear door facing away from the building where one of the drivers was getting groceries.

The photographic evidence provided by the FBI shows a sample of the stolen items.

A photographic evidence provided by the FBI shows a jewelry sample stolen in July’s Flying J heist. Anyone with information regarding these items should contact the FBI.

(FBI)

The total value of the plunder is disputed – and the subject of dueling lawsuits as Brink’s and the jewelers argue over how much they should pay. Estimates range from Brink’s claim that the merchandise was worth less than $10 million to around 10 times that amount. A high-end valuation — the jewelers claimed in their lawsuit that the goods were worth about $100 million — would make the theft one of the largest in modern history. The Aug. 4 lawsuit, filed by Richmond, Virginia-based Brink’s, aims to limit any payouts it may have to make to the jewelry companies, eight of which are based in LA

Brink’s asked a New York court to explain that the company’s responsibility to the 13 jewelers is governed by their contracts with the security and logistics giant. The lawsuit includes language from a Brink’s contract that indicates the company will pay customers for items lost in transit — up to their declared value.

The higher the declared value of a shipment, the more expensive it is to ship due to increased insurance costs. Arnold Duke, president of the International Gem and Jewelry Show, said that jewelers in general can “slash their costs tremendously” by attributing their wares a lower value than their market cost.

Brink’s claims the stolen shipments have a declared total value of $8.7 million — a number Brink said was extracted from manifests signed by its jewelry customers before the semi-trailer truck departed from the San Mateo County Event Center. Citing media reports that the missing shipments were worth more than $100 million, Brink’s claimed the 13 jewelry companies “materially understated the value of their shipments” when they agreed to buy their goods from the company to have it transported to a Pasadena trade show.

“Brink’s believes each defendant is attempting to recover more from Brink’s than the contract allows,” said the company, which also asked the court to review a finding that it is not liable for the losses of defendants who fail to meet the monetary value have accurately described their property.

The 13 jewelers have not responded to Brink’s lawsuit, according to online legal filings.

Duke previously told The Times that “we anticipate documented losses in excess of $100 million. …We’re talking gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and lots of luxury watches.”

In their letter to Brink’s, the Wongs said that in their 46 years as jewelers, they had long relied on the company to ship goods and “it had become a habit to declare the value of their wares at $400,000.” “This amount does not represent the market value of the merchandise as we never expected it to be robbed,” the Wongs wrote. They said the “fair market value” of their stolen items is approximately $1.14 million.

The Times sought interviews with each of the 13 jewelry companies; Some did not respond to calls for comment, while others referred the matter to their legal counsel. However, the jewelers’ lawsuit alleged that the “mom and pop operators” suffered from “extreme stress, anxiety, embarrassment, humiliation” and other issues. Jewelry fairs are the only source of income for many of the jewelers, their lawsuit states, and “the loss of their inventory prevents them from generating any revenue, leading to significant financial difficulties.”

Her attorney, Gerald L. Kroll, said he was on the phone with his clients until 2 a.m. most nights. “Everyone is upset, stressed and wondering what they’re going to do next,” he said. “Some of my customers have told me they don’t know how to put the food on the table. They’re in their 60s, 70s. This is trauma. And every day the reality of it sinks in more and more.”

The jeweler’s suit for alleged breach of contract, negligence and other claims. The complaint listed 14 jewelry stores as plaintiffs, including one not sued by Brink’s.

The lawsuit alleged that agreements signed by the jewelers contained illegible contract text on the back and therefore “cannot be binding”. It was also alleged that a Brink’s representative attending the San Mateo jewelry fair advised several jewelers to “underestimate their value on pickup lists in order to save money, since shipping costs would be too high if they declared full value.” would be goods.”

The Flying J travel center in Lebec.

The Flying J in Lebec was the scene of a robbery on a Brink tractor trailer, during which precious stones, gold and other valuables were stolen.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The Brink’s employee, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, “did not warn the plaintiffs that underestimating the value would bar them from recovery or limit the amount they could recover in the event of a loss,” the lawsuit states.

The Times could not reach the employee for comment.

The jeweler’s lawsuit also alleged that the semi-trailer drivers’ behavior was “grossly negligent.” It was alleged that Brink’s “sloppy security” allowed it to “steal jewelry and gems right from under the noses of the drivers,” both of whom are listed as defendants in the complaint, along with Pilot Corp., the operator of the flying j

Pilot did not respond to a request for comment, and Brink’s declined to comment, citing active litigation. The company previously released a statement, in part saying it would “fully reimburse our customers for the value of their stolen assets under the terms of our contract.”

The Brink’s lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, offered a sparse account of the Flying J episode. It was alleged that on the evening of July 10, an armored Brink’s Big Rig carrying 73 bags was loaded with jewelry and other items at the San Mateo Jewelry Fair. At midnight, the semi-trailer pulled into a Brink’s warehouse some 370 miles south in Los Angeles. There were two drivers on board – the lawsuit only identified them as Driver 1 and Driver 2.

Upon departure, Driver 2 fell asleep in the vehicle’s bunk in accordance with Department of Transportation regulations, the lawsuit says. At approximately 1:49 a.m., Driver 1 stopped the vehicle at the Buttonwillow rest area along Interstate 5 to use the restroom. Then, at 2:05 a.m., it stopped again – this time at the Flying J.

Driver 1 exited the vehicle to get food at the rest area, but failed to wake Driver 2, the lawsuit says, noting that doing so complied with Department of Transportation regulations.

Under DOT rules, commercial truck drivers can be on duty 14 hours out of a 24-hour period. When entering a vehicle’s sleeping area, the time spent there must not be interrupted if it is to be counted towards the 10 hours of free time required per day. Dan Horvath, vice president of safety policy at American Trucking Assns., said this policy might explain why Driver 1 didn’t wake Driver 2.

“When it comes to someone resting so that they are DOT compliant and not fatigued, drivers will do their best not to disturb a driver who is in the sleeper compartment,” Horvath said.

When Driver 1 returned to the large platform at 2:32 a.m., he saw the trailer’s red plastic seal lying on the ground and found that the vehicle’s rear lock had been severed, the lawsuit claimed. Driver 1 spoke to his partner who said nothing unusual had happened. They called the police, who soon arrived and found 22 bags missing.

In a call with analysts Aug. 3 to discuss Brink’s second-quarter earnings, Chief Executive Mark Eubanks answered an analyst’s question about the Flying J heist and insisted that “the worst-case loss would be less than $10 million US dollars” – an amount he said was “contrary to some pretty salacious media reports out there”.

“Our forecasts on an ongoing basis routinely include estimates of losses. This is part of our business. To do this, we use historical data,” Eubanks said. “The impact of this loss should not be material to our results.”

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2022-08-23/la-fi-brinks-heist-jewelry-victim-lawsuit Brink’s driver was asleep inside truck during jewelry heist

Alley Einstein

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