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Man Is Convicted in Huge Jewel Heist in San Francisco

June 04, 2005|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A Superior Court jury found Dino Smith guilty Friday in this city's biggest jewel heist, bringing to a close one chapter of a crime thriller worthy of Hollywood while opening another.

Smith, 46, is the older of two charismatic brothers with a high-profile criminal history here. He faces a possible sentence of 34 years to life after being found guilty of eight counts of robbery, false imprisonment, burglary and conspiracy.

His younger brother, Troy Smith, 44, remains at large. Awaiting trial later this summer is the Smiths' childhood friend, George Turner, arrested months after the robbery with $650,000 in jewelry, some of it with the store tags still attached.

Fingerprints of both Troy Smith and Turner were found at the crime scene, while the case against Dino Smith rested on the testimony of a rattled store employee, who said he glimpsed the robber for eight seconds, and on an alleged admission by Dino Smith that he planned the job for months with the store's owner.

The next chapter probably will determine whether the owner will face charges too.

Undisputed is how the robbery occurred: On the night of April 6, 2003, the robbers cut through the wall of a vacant restaurant into the adjoining Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry. They disabled the alarm, waited for morning, and forced employees to empty the safes. They then fled with garbage bags stuffed with jewelry valued at more than $6 million.

In convicting Dino Smith on eight of 11 counts, jurors agreed with Assistant Dist. Atty. Jerry Coleman that he was among the "hole-in-the-wall gang."

"This shows he was involved in a sophisticated and brazen crime of enormous proportions," Coleman said.

Defense attorney Jonathan Rutledge could not be reached for comment Friday, but he has maintained that Dino Smith was not involved and that police had fabricated evidence against him.

Still unresolved is who ordered the robbery. Lang's owner, Mark Zimmelman, was identified as the mastermind by Dino Smith in an alleged admission to police. Zimmelman had testified against the brothers in another case more than a dozen years ago after authorities charged him with knowingly buying stolen jewelry from Dino Smith. Zimmelman said he never knew the goods were stolen.

During the trial that ended Friday, both the prosecution and defense called the robbery an inside job.

The safes were moved from the wall shortly before the heist, enabling robbers to cut a hole exactly where a hidden door once was. The robbers appeared to know who had the safe combinations, where the panic buttons were and that no store surveillance cameras ran Sunday nights, the lawyers noted during the trial.

Recovered at Dino Smith's apartment in New York, where he was living under a false identity, were notebooks and a computer journal allegedly penned by him that referred to meetings with "M.Z."

Police and prosecutors said store manager Suzanne Martinez probably was in on the deal, although neither she nor Zimmelman has been arrested or charged with any crime.

While the jurors convicted Dino Smith of robbing and falsely imprisoning three of the store employees, they found him not guilty of victimizing Martinez. Jurors also found Dino Smith not guilty on gun-related enhancements to the charges against him, indicating that they were not convinced he was one of the two armed men inside the store at the time of the robbery.

The two robbers in the store and two accomplices were videotaped leaving the area after the robbery. Although prosecutors have identified three of them as the Smith brothers and Turner, the fourth has not been identified.

Police have urged prosecutors to file charges against Zimmelman, who has not been arrested. A spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris said the office is evaluating that case.

Zimmelman maintains his innocence, saying the Smiths likely targeted him as payback for his earlier testimony. He reportedly passed a lie detector test administered by the state Department of Justice shortly after the robbery and was compensated by his insurer after a lengthy investigation.

"Instead of libeling me by innuendo and unfounded incriminations, come up with something tangible," Zimmelman said Friday.

Martinez has said she was an innocent victim too.

Dino and Troy Smith are well-known to San Francisco authorities for high-profile trials in the 1990s: one for a plot to kidnap and rob a flamboyant San Francisco club owner and another for the home-invasion robbery of the widow of a Nicaraguan drug lord.

The brothers were convicted in both cases, but their convictions were overturned by appellate courts for unrelated reasons.

The brothers were retried and convicted in the home-invasion robbery case, but they were not retried in the kidnapping plot.

Both were released from prison in 1998.

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