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Suspect Held in Record Jewel Heist

Dino Smith, one of two brothers sought in last year's $6-million robbery of a San Francisco retailer, is arrested in New York.

June 05, 2004|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Police have arrested one of two brothers wanted for more than a year in connection with a record jewel heist in this city. Dino Smith, 45, was taken into custody outside a train station in Queens, New York, after San Francisco investigators followed Smith's alleged girlfriend and the couple's baby across the country.

Dino and Troy Smith, 41, had been on the run since more than $6 million in jewels were taken at gunpoint from the safes of Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry in April 2003, in a case filled with bizarre twists.

A third suspect -- George Turner, who is a childhood friend of the Smiths -- was arrested shortly after the heist in a San Francisco beachfront motel with a bag containing some of the jewels, price tags attached, in his possession. Troy Smith remains at large.

"It was a long couple of days, but now it's coming together," said San Francisco Police Inspector Dan Gardner, who with his partner tracked Smith for two days before the Thursday evening arrest. "Two down, one to go."

The charming and articulate Smith brothers are well-known to San Francisco law enforcement officials. Lang's owner, Mark Zimmelman, had testified against the pair more than a decade ago after selling gems the brothers had stolen from the wife of a onetime Nicaraguan drug dealer in a home invasion robbery.

The brothers had also been arrested in full body armor after police were tipped off to their alleged scheme to kidnap and possibly kill "Dr. Winkie," the flamboyant owner of a famous 1980s nightclub here. They received long sentences in both cases. But due to misconduct by a police detective and a defense attorney, appellate courts overturned both convictions.

Both joined the Merchant Marine -- claiming on their applications for U.S. Coast Guard licenses that they had learned the trade in a tiny South Pacific nation. But by April 2003, records and interviews revealed, both men were struggling financially.

On the night of April 6, police say, three men tunneled through a wall, disabled the Lang alarm system and hid out until morning, when they forced employees to empty the safes of diamond rings, Art Deco bracelets and brooches studded with Burmese rubies and Kashmirian sapphires.

Police say fingerprints link Troy Smith and George Turner to the scene, and a victim of the heist had identified Dino Smith. (In a recent jail interview, Turner denied involvement in the heist, saying he had merely agreed to attempt to sell the stolen jewels for a friend.)

"I'm glad justice prevails," said Zimmelman, who was attending a Las Vegas trade show when informed of the arrest late Friday. "Two out of three ain't bad. I'm sure they'll eventually get the other guy."

Arrested as an accessory after the fact shortly after the heist was Debbie Warner, a real estate agent pregnant with Dino Smith's child. But a Superior Court judge tossed out the case against her as too dependent on the testimony of a felon.

It was Warner whom detectives followed to New York this week. After she and the baby boarded a JetBlue flight Tuesday, investigators notified U.S. marshals and the New York Police Department fugitive task force, which assisted in tracking Warner until San Francisco police took over Wednesday.

Both brothers had been known for their flashy suits and expensive cars. Dino had once escaped police custody by stashing a pair of universal handcuff keys in his underpants. But when he was taken into custody Thursday, police said that flash was gone. Smith has lost weight and seemed relieved to end his ordeal as a fugitive.

Smith is resisting extradition to San Francisco, which Gardner said could take up to 90 days. All three men face a third strike -- and life in prison -- if convicted.

The last to remain at large is Troy Smith. After the brothers were featured on "America's Most Wanted" last fall, Troy Smith mailed an angry letter to host John Walsh -- and made one available to The Times.

In it, he complained bitterly of character assassination and said vindictive police and prosecutors -- and his inability to afford good counsel -- make a fair trial impossible.

"Assuming I'm not murdered first, I know how they will turn on the courtroom theatrics along with prosecutorial misconduct," he wrote. "In the process, I'll get stuck with the dim-witted lawyer from 'My Cousin Vinny.' I'd rather take my chances with hypertension as a fugitive."

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