Three men rob salesman of $1 million in jewels in Pine
Three masked men made off with jewelry — said to be worth an estimated $1 million — during a daytime heist on Wednesday in Pine, the second major theft in Allegheny County since April that targeted a jewelry salesman, police said.
The armed robbery occurred shortly after 4:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Grafner Brothers Jewelry Store in Pine Tree Shops on Perry Highway, said Chief Robert Amann of the Northern Regional Police Department.
“The victim parked his car and saw three men dressed in black and wearing masks approaching,” the chief said, adding that at least one man had a knife. “The salesman got out of his car and took off running.”
As one man pursued him, the other thieves broke the window of his car and grabbed a bag containing the jewelry, police said. A witness followed the getaway vehicle, which eventually pulled behind a muffler shop on Route 19. The thieves fled on foot across Brown Road to a CVS pharmacy, where someone driving another vehicle picked them up, Amann said. No description of that vehicle is available, he said.
“We got some pretty solid video from the CVS that shows the men without their masks on,” Amann said. “We're releasing the images in the hopes it will help lead us to the suspects.”
The FBI is assisting Northern Regional in the investigation, FBI spokeswoman Kelly Kochamba said.
On April 12, thieves broke into a salesman's car parked in the lot of a Monroeville hotel and stole $250,000 worth of jewelry, police said. No arrest has been made.
Pine Detective Jeff Hoffman said police are not ruling out a possibility of a connection, though the investigation is in its early stages.
“We're looking at everything,” he said.
Major thefts, such as those in Pine and Monroeville, typically are the work of a criminal organization, said Trooper Robin Mungo of the state police, which is not part of either investigation.
“I think it's unlikely they'll just head to some pawn shop or business that buys gold and try to sell it. It wouldn't surprise me if they already had customers lined up to buy the stolen items,” Mungo said.
Mungo said pawn shops and legitimate businesses that buy gold and other precious metals require sellers to provide proper identification.
Harton Wolf of Henne Jewelers in Shadyside said some gems can be traced by a mark etched into the stone with a laser. Henne's owner, John Henne, is treasurer of the trade association Jewelers of America.
In the Pine incident, the salesman, who is from New York, pulled into a shopping plaza headed to Grafner Brothers Jewelry Store, Amann said.
John Lloyd, one of Grafner Brothers' owners, said the salesman is a manufacturer's representative who was carrying a line of finished jewelry made with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds that “easily” is valued at $1 million.
Amann declined to place a value on the jewelry, except to say that his department is investigating “a major theft.”
Amann said the three robbers fled south on Route 19 in a gray Nissan Maxima that had the license plate covered.
Lloyd said the salesman, whom he declined to identify, told him he had just left a nearby jewelry store and thought he might have been followed.
“We're just thankful that he wasn't hurt,” Lloyd said. “The jewelry can be replaced; that's what insurance is for. Unfortunately, he's in a business where people are extremely vulnerable.”
In 2003, when Lloyd's business was on Liberty Avenue, Downtown, thieves broke in at night, disabled a top-flight alarm system and used sledgehammers and electric grinding tools to peel back the steel doors on four safes and steal $150,000 worth of jewelry.
Nobody was arrested, and none of the jewelry was recovered, he said.
Police investigating last month's theft of jewelry in Monroeville said they suspected thieves followed the victim. No arrests have been made.
Raj Dhanak of the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn, who makes his living hosting private jewelry shows, parked his rental car in the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel lot near Monroeville Mall after driving from Cincinnati, where he hosted a show earlier in the day.
Thieves broke a window to get into the trunk where he had left the jewelry, thinking it would be safer there than if he carried it back and forth from the hotel.
Dhanak later learned that his insurance company will not cover the jewelry because his policy requires it be in his possession at all times.
Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or firstname.lastname@example.org.