Colombian man pleads guilty to jewelry heist targeting traveling salesman in McCandless
A Colombian man pleaded guilty to federal robbery charges for trying to steal as much as $1 million worth of jewelry and gemstones from a salesman outside a McCandless store in 2013, officials said Tuesday.
Oscar Javier Rodriguez Roa, 36, of Bogota, Colombia, admitted as part of his guilty plea in Pittsburgh federal court that he was part of a South American theft ring that targeted traveling jewelry salespersons in the United States, U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady said.
“Thanks to the excellent police work of the Northern Regional Police Department, the FBI and the tenacious efforts of the United States Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, this international criminal has been brought to justice,” Brady said in a statement.
Three other men took part in the robbery, according to investigators, but only Roa was named in the federal documents made public.
On May 5, 2013, Roa and his accomplices drove a rental car from Lawrenceville, Ga., to Western Pennsylvania to set up the heist, Brady said.
Three days later, while a New York-based salesman was siting in his car in the parking lot outside Graffner Bros. Jewelry Store along Perry Highway, Roa smashed the car’s rear driver side window, reached inside and grabbed the salesman’s shoulder bag, prosecutors said.
The bag contained more than $500,000 worth of jewelry and gemstones, police said.
One man who was with Roa punctured a rear tire of the salesman’s car while a second kept an eye on the salesman, prosecutors said. A third man drove the getaway car, a Nissan sedan with an intentionally obscured license plate.
At least one of the them had a knife, Northern Regional police said.
People who saw the robbery followed the Nissan to a church parking lot, prosecutors said.
After realizing they had been followed, they drove to a nearby auto repair shop, abandoned the Nissan and took off on foot toward a CVS Pharmacy, prosecutors said.
Video surveillance captured Roa enter the pharmacy while talking on a cellphone alongside a man carrying the stolen shoulder bag, prosecutors said. The two other men waited outside.
On May 16, 2013, Roa fled to Colombia via a plane that departed from Houston, Texas.
Forensic evidence linked Roa’s fingerprints to the front passenger door of the abandoned Nissan and on a gaming console found in its trunk.
He was extradited back to Pittsburgh.
He faces up a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
U.S. District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose scheduled a sentencing hearing for Aug. 12.
Brady announced the guilty plea alongside Robert Jones, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office, and Northern Regional police Chief T. Robert Amann.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles A. Eberle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Trial Attorney Leshia Lee-Dixon of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section in the Justice Department prosecuted the case.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .