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Suspects in $10-Million Heist Run Rings Around Authorities

The savvy Smith brothers have thwarted the police and the courts in daring robberies.

May 02, 2003|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The men knew exactly where to cut. They tunneled through the wall from an abandoned restaurant into Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry. They outsmarted the alarm. Then they waited. The next morning, the masked thieves disappeared, their garbage bags stuffed with as much as $10 million in handcrafted diamond rings, Art Deco bracelets and brooches studded with Burmese rubies and Kashmiri sapphires.

Last month's daring heist near Union Square broke city records for the size of the take, surpassing even the most brazen previous jewelry store robberies here tenfold, police said.

It was not long before San Francisco police named two suspects they know all too well: Dino and Troy. The Smith brothers. Again. The tall, handsome duo with the articulate -- if arrogant -- manner had already pulled off a series of bold robberies and burglaries in a criminal past that fills more than 20,000 pages of court documents.

Younger brother Troy played pro football in Europe and favors Gucci and Armani. Dino made the San Francisco club scene, not only hanging out at the hip DV8 in its late 1980s heyday but allegedly plotting to kidnap and rob its flamboyant owner, a dyed-blond, blue-eyed Chinese American known around town as "Dr. Winkie."

Police and prosecutors acknowledge the brothers' smarts. They shake their heads at their cocksure personalities. And they grit their teeth at the Smiths' nine lives. Convicted in the early 1990s of enough crimes to spend several decades in prison, the Smiths instead walked free five years ago.

Now, police have obtained arrest warrants in the Lang jewelry theft, which claimed the country's largest collection of estate jewelry from the late 1800s through the 1940s. Named are Dino Loren Smith, 44; Troy Devin Smith, 40; and fellow felon George Turner, 43. A suspected fourth participant has not been identified. The FBI is assisting in the case. On Wednesday, Dino's girlfriend, 30-year-old Debbie Warner, was arrested for allegedly possessing jewelry taken in the theft -- a pair of diamond and sapphire earrings.

But the Smiths are at large, the latest alleged escape act in a convoluted criminal odyssey. Victims are labeled suspect. Suspects later turn up as victims. A fortune in jewels vanishes from a jury evidence room. And, in a stroke of luck that even their appellate attorneys liken to winning the lottery, the brothers' convictions are overturned in two separate cases.

When they first tasted freedom in 1998, the Smiths hosted a bash for their lawyers at Palomino Rotisseria Bar, a waterfront bistro with a sweeping view of the Bay Bridge. Dozens attended, including the parents of Dino and Troy. They had worked hard to keep the boys in Catholic schools and out of trouble. They had paid too many visits to California's toughest prisons: Pelican Bay, San Quentin, Folsom. Now there was hope again.

"It was a very nice party," said father Nolan Smith Sr., 69, a retired custodial supervisor for the city of San Francisco. "They were very positive. They said they were never going to go back to prison -- no way."

Family members say they desperately want to believe in the brothers' innocence. But police insist that the Smiths will be caught and convicted of their third and final strike -- possibly sending them to prison for life.

"We know who they are," said San Francisco Police Department robbery Inspector Dan Gardner, who called on the men to turn themselves in. "They're considered to be armed and very dangerous."

Delinquent Influences

Nolan Sr. and Marie Smith moved their sons to San Francisco's rough Western Addition from Texas when the boys were small. (The third and eldest, Nolan Jr., now works a computer-related job in Virginia.) Dino was quiet and difficult to reach, his father said. Troy, who now goes by Devin, was more engaged in academics and sports.

They tried to keep Troy from the delinquent influences of Dino, sending him to a Jesuit school in Napa. He spent weekends with the family of a teacher, swimming and horseback riding. But keeping the boys out of trouble proved difficult.

The story of the brothers has been pieced together through court records and interviews. Dino dropped out of high school after 11th grade. At 20, he was convicted of carrying a concealed gun in his car. Other convictions followed: false imprisonment, receiving stolen property and burglary. He gained a reputation for his ability to scale buildings and drop silently inside. Once he escaped from police custody by stashing handcuff keys in his underpants. He began using an alias: Greg West.

Troy, meanwhile, had only an attempted burglary on his record. More muscular than Dino at 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, he played college football for two years. By 1983 he had headed to Italy to play professionally.

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