Time runs out on San Mateo watch scam

AP file photoGood taste: A Daytona Rolex was among two luxury watches stolen in a Craigslist scam involving an inmate.

San Mateo detectives really had this crook’s number.

The case against a California inmate who orchestrated robberies from prison last year while using a smuggled cellphone officially closed Tuesday with the sentencing of his accomplice.

Last month, a judge added seven years to Jermaine Shermal Nelson’s 16-year state prison sentence at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo after the inmate pleaded guilty to a robbery that took place at the Hillsdale Shopping Mall in San Mateo. He also was ordered to shell out $9,000 in restitution to the victim. On Tuesday, Nelson’s accomplice, Lamar Diante Cox, was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay the same restitution, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Though California inmates are not allowed to have cellphones, Nelson used one to respond to a Craigslist advertisement selling a $14,000 Daytona Rolex. He arranged to meet the seller at the San Mateo mall Aug. 20, 2011, then reportedly sent Cox to carry out the heist.

At a jewelry store at the mall, Wagstaffe said, Cox and the victim had the Rolex examined and cleaned. The victim even had a watch he wasn’t selling — a $9,300 Submariner Rolex — spiffed up at the store, Wagstaffe said.

The pair then rode in the victim’s car to a bank, where Cox said he planned to withdraw cash to pay for the watch.

But the transaction fell apart when Cox phoned Nelson during the drive.

“Cox had the victim stop the car and … he pulled out a handgun and stole both Rolex watches,” Wagstaffe said.

From prison, Nelson then reportedly arranged the sale of the Submariner to a man in Houston. Cox flew to Texas to finalize the deal, Wagstaffe said, adding that the Daytona was never recovered.

To catch the crooks, San Mateo police detectives placed their own Craigslist ad purporting to sell a Rolex. Nelson again responded to the ad from prison and arranged a meeting for Sept. 15 of last year, police said. After phone calls were exchanged that day, Nelson called off the deal. However, detectives already had all the evidence they needed.

The “cellphone records tie Nelson and Cox together on both scams,” Wagstaffe said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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