Mystery of the jewel heist from a Brink’s truck in California

When pundits recall the most infamous jewel heist in modern history, they talk about the tunneling at Hatton Garden in London or the burglary in Antwerp, Belgium that took months of planning.

Then there’s the case of the robbery earlier this month at the Flying J truck stop along Interstate 5 in Grapevine.

In the early hours of July 11, two armed guards exited their Brink’s large oil rig, giving a gang of thieves a 27-minute window to make the massive hijack, the total value of which is still a mystery. Estimates range from $10 to $100 million.

The burglary team bypassed the truck’s locking mechanism and used the storage containers to haul valuable gems, gold and other valuables off a Brink’s tractor trailer, say multiple law enforcement sources who are not authorized to discuss the crime.

How much the thieves stole during the 2 a.m. robbery is hotly debated. Brink’s said it was less than $10 million based on insurance. A federal law enforcement source and some connected to the world of the International Gem and Jewelry Show said the total appears to be closer to $100 million.

“We’re talking millions here. It’s a huge amount of money,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau Sgt. Michael Mileski, a veteran investigating armored car and bank capers. Mileski said the $10 million is a base and is expected to escalate.

The question is how the thieves got into the truck and whether they knew about the valuables inside beforehand. Given the time window of less than half an hour, he said, “We believe multiple thieves must have been involved.”

The crime did not fit the usual definition of a robbery as it was not a robbery but a burglary.

The gang of thieves were able to quickly bypass the truck’s locking mechanism, enter its massive back and offload a series of storage bins filled with jewelry, diamonds, other precious stones and a plethora of Rolexes and other designer watches, Mileski said. The investigator said he would not describe the locking mechanism but acknowledged it would not be overly difficult to crack. Outward signs of the wealth within were not obvious. But Mileski said the guards driving such trucks openly carry firearms and that could alert anyone watching trucks.

Arnold Duke, president of the International Gem and Jewelry Show, whose exhibitors displayed the items in San Mateo and shipped them to Pasadena, said the truck contained many 70- to 100-pound plastic containers filled with jewelry, gemstones and watches.

“We anticipate documented losses in excess of $100 million,” he said. “That was an absolutely major crime. One of the greatest jewelry thefts of all time. We’re talking gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and lots of luxury watches.”

“There were 15 exhibitors with $5 each [million] $10 million worth of merchandise,” he added. “These are small companies with all their assets invested in these trucks. It has devastated them financially and in some cases affected their health.”

Duke said he was told the thieves didn’t manage to get all the valuables out of the truck. Duke declined to discuss security measures at the shows but said anyone entering would be photographed. Typically, goods are transported in a large team with a bulletproof cabin equipped with satellite tracking and sophisticated camera systems and armed guards, with the exact route being kept secret, he added.

FBI agents and sheriff’s primary crime investigators have been searching the Flying J truck stop at 5 for leads.

They interviewed potential witnesses and reviewed security footage for images of the vital half-hour window that security forces left the truck door unguarded.

“Obviously we’re not going to say what we have at this point,” the sergeant said.

Flying J’s parent company has created a web request page for their travel center’s safety videos for easier access by law enforcement and others.

Cargo theft is a massive criminal enterprise throughout the LA area including some of the largest ports in the country. Last year alone, CargoNet, a theft-recording company, recorded more than $57 million in truck thefts. California remains the state with the highest volume of cargo robberies, up 13% from 2020.

However, it is more likely that thieves were secretly stalking the truck from the last gem fair location in San Mateo. Vendors stowed away their riches on July 10 and loaded them onto the truck bound for their next show at the Pasadena Convention Center. FBI officials say they appear to be investigating everyone who knew about the move.

The Flying J Travel Center is open 24 hours a day on Frazier Mountain Park Road and includes a Dunkin’ Donuts Express and a 47-truck Wendy’s. According to insurers in the insurance industry, cargo thefts at truck stops are relatively common. But data on cargo thefts at US truck stops between 2012 and 2018 showed only one theft in Lebec.

Brinks declined to comment beyond a statement, which said: “Last week an incident involving the loss of a Brink vehicle occurred near Los Angeles. According to the information that customers provided us before shipping their items, the total value of the missing items is less than $10 million. We are cooperating with law enforcement and will fully reimburse our customers for the value of their stolen assets under the terms of our contract.”

Brink’s global service website lists trade show locations via a trade show link. The San Mateo show ran July 8-10, and the Pasadena show is scheduled for July 15-17. Mystery of the jewel heist from a Brink’s truck in California

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