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Gangs target jewelry stores in smash-and-grab heists

December 10, 2010 |  2:52 pm

An hour before the Pico Rivera Indoor Swap Meet was to close Thursday night, several young black men ran to a jewelry store near the entrance.

Dressed in hooded sweatshirts and armed only with hammers, the men smashed jewelry cases and quickly fled with an estimated $15,000 in jewelry, most of it gold, witnesses later told Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators.

It was the second such robbery in Pico Rivera in recent weeks and part of a larger regionwide spree, authorities said.

Since at least October, members of black gangs in Los Angeles have been traveling to small and mid-size towns throughout Southern California, robbing largely unprotected jewelry stores and jewelry marts, authorities said.

Towns such as Anaheim, El Monte, Fullerton, Glendale, Huntington Park, Pasadena and Santa Ana,  among others, have reported robberies identical to the one in Pico Rivera in the last three months.

In Los Angeles’ jewelry district, smash-and-grab robberies “have been going on for years,” said Los Angeles Police Department Det. Al Rasch, who investigates robberies in downtown L.A.

“It seems … to be getting more press now because it’s happening in the outlying areas of L.A.,” he said.

It also appears to have become a fashionable crime among South Los Angeles' black gangs. Other departments report arresting members of the Rolling 60s Crips, Project Crips and Denver Lane Crips in the robberies.

One factor is the price of gold. It has climbed as the recession sent investors searching for a safe place to put their money, and now sells for just under $1,400 an ounce.

Another factor is that many suburban stores and jewelry marts don't have much security and aren’t accustomed to these kinds of attacks.

“Most of the places don’t have a security guard. They’re in and out in less than minute,” said Fullerton police Sgt. Mike Chlebowski. Gangs “have realized that, because of the skyrocketing price of gold, that this is easy to do.”

-- Sam Quinones