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L.A. police seek owners of 11,000 pieces of stolen jewelry

Valuables taken in hundreds of so-called knock-knock burglaries are recovered. About 70 suspects, including two alleged fences, have been arrested.

December 05, 2012|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Jewelry items are numbered in bags and displayed at the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Bureau during a news conference about knock-knock burglaries.
Jewelry items are numbered in bags and displayed at the Los Angeles Police… (Katie Falkenberg / For the…)

Gold earrings, diamond studs, wedding rings and designer watches sparkled like a jeweler's cabinet at a shopping mall — and there's more where that came from, police said.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Matt Plugge displayed more than 11,000 stolen items at the Valley Bureau headquarters, showing them off more like a high-end jeweler than a law enforcement official.

Plugge said he is now seeking to reunite some pieces with their rightful owners.

"They come from hundreds of homes," Plugge said. "It is not so much the value here but that sentimental value. We're talking wedding rings, pieces of family jewelry with all the emotions attached. These are special items to someone."

The valuables were stolen in hundreds of so-called knock-knock burglaries in which the brazen thieves would knock on the door and bust in when no one answered. They could ransack the home for valuables in a few minutes.

As the San Fernando Valley and L.A.'s Westside saw a surge in home burglaries early this year, authorities created a task force to help catch the crafty crooks.

Investigators have arrested more than 55 suspected burglars and more than a dozen alleged associates, including two suspected fences who knowingly bought the stolen merchandise, Police Det. Joe Esquivel said. Many of the suspects arrested are active gang members who also allegedly stole a variety of guns, police said.

In many cases, burglars turned the stolen booty into cash within hours, police said

"We'd catch them dividing up the cash in the parking lot of the fence," Plugge said. "The fences quickly split the jewels from the gold. We found multiple gold bars we suspect were once jewelry."

Informants and undercover surveillance led detectives to two suspected fences who owned several stores in downtown L.A. At Fine Silver Max's Jewelry and Guadalajara Jewelry on South Broadway, detectives in September recovered many items and arrested two store operators.

Burglary and armed robbery suspects were observed repeatedly engaging in hasty transactions that were so frequent that investigators said they saw one burglary crew finish up its business as another arrived.

Both stores ignored a city law requiring secondhand stores and pawnshops to obtain a fingerprint and record a form of identification when exchanging personal property for cash.

Fine Silver Max's operator, Ismael Monje, who owned two nearby electronic businesses, was also charged with nine counts, including identity theft and receiving of stolen property, said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

Farshad Yaghoobi, owner of Guadalajara Jewelry, was arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen goods at his Beverly Hills home but has not yet been charged.

About 50 people have come forward to identify their items since images were placed on the LAPD website.

"We are asking people to contact us and provide some proof it is their item," Plugge said.

That would include a police report, appraisal, a receipt or a picture of them wearing it.

Photos of the property can be found at http://www.lapdonline.org. Type "fence burglaries" into the search box and a link will appear to the hundreds of photos. If you see a piece that is yours, send an email to lapdvctf@lapd.lacity.org or call (818) 644-8091.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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