“Smash and grab” diamond heists may seem like the stuff of the silver screen, but in South San Francisco on Wednesday, they were all too real.
After tailing a jewelry vendor for an undetermined amount of time, four suspects with bandanas over their noses robbed him yesterday at 9 a.m. as he got into his car at the South Airport Boulevard Travelodge, stealing upward of $500,000 in diamonds.
Three of the suspects, described only as Hispanic males, approached the victim, a vendor from the New York City area who had traveled to Los Angeles before arriving in San Francisco on Sunday, at his car after waiting for him in the parking lot of the hotel, South City police Sg.t Joni Lee said.
The suspects, in a well-coordinated attack, “smacked out the windows” of the car and punctured a rear tire so the victim could not follow them as one reached in and grabbed the two bags of diamond necklaces and pendants, cell phones and car keys, Lee said.
The fourth suspect, also a Hispanic male, waited in a silver, four-door mid-size Chevy or Ford car with a paper license plate that said “Weber” before all four escaped.
The victim, whose name was not released, was not harmed.
Incidents such as yesterday’s theft are not uncommon for jewelry vendors transporting their wares around the country.
Whether the incident was at the hands of a Colombian nationalist ring suspected in past jewelry heists around the area and in Southern California, Lee did not know. But she said it was definitely organized.
“They knew what they wanted — bam, bam, bam — they were gone,” Lee said, noting that the entire incident took 30 seconds.
In August 2001, jewelry couriers in Millbrae were reportedly relieved of a similar amount of jewels at gunpoint outside a Chinese restaurant. Sgt. John Aronis of Millbrae police said it was believed at the time that it was the effort of the unnamed Colombian ring.
South City had another jewelry heist several years ago, Lee said, when a vendor stopped on Grand Avenue and his car was broken into as he stepped away for a moment.
The FBI was contacted by investigators about yesterday’s incident, but South City police were heading up the investigation, FBI Special Agent Larae Quy said.
The victim was doing business all over the Bay Area, from Oakland and San Francisco down to San Jose, South City police said.
Bhuvan Sahney, a sales manager with Shreve & Co. in San Francisco, said the name of the game as a vendor is to blend in with the crowd and avoid looking like a diamond seller.
“If this was random, then this guy has the worst luck in the world,” Sahney said.