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Breaking News in the Industry: March 31, 2017

Surveillance video of jewelry heist released

Fake 911 calls, hazmat suits and pickaxes were all part of an elaborate plan to steal half a million dollars in diamonds, according to the self-proclaimed ringleader in a violent jewelry store heist.

 Jose Villarreal, 43, testified against the last of five defendants in the robbery at Jared near The Woodlands that happened July 17, 2013. His testimony helped convict Brandon Powell, 31, on Tuesday. Wednesday, a judge sentenced Powell to 30 years in prison. Three others took plea deals. After the sentence, dramatic surveillance video of the crime that was shown to the jury was released.

The video shows five men storming in with pickaxes concealed in hazmat suits and masks. They smash jewelry cases in assembly line fashion. Villarreal was leading the charge with his gun drawn.

“He was the mastermind of the operations, and that’s what he testified to,” said Laura Bond, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney, who prosecuted the case. “It was a well-calculated, violent offense.” Villarreal was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 for the robbery. He identified his accomplices. Powell was his ex-brother-in-law.

At trial, Villarreal detailed his plan. He told the jury he chose the store because it didn’t have a security guard. He cased it at least twice so he knew to send his men to the back for the high-end diamonds, and he placed fake 911 calls so he knew how long he would have before officers would arrive. A getaway driver was at a nearby gas station on the phone, counting down their average response time of 90 seconds.

”They had it really well timed. This was a professional act,” Bond said. Bond credits the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and its crime scene investigators for the outcome of the cases.
”Justice has definitely been served,” said Bond.  [For more: ABC News 13]

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Five employees indicted for $11.6M fraud

Five former iPayment employees, a credit card processing company, have been charged in a multi-million dollar  accounting scheme. The US Securities and Exchange Commission claims that the group profited by using false invoices and kickbacks, worth more than $11.6 million.  The former Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Nasir Shakouri and former Chief Operating Officer, Robert Torino are believed to have been leading the illegal operation, along with three others, that went on for more than four years.

“They routinely reimbursed themselves for payments that were never actually made to third-party vendors using their personal credit cards,” the SEC said in a statement. “The pair also allegedly received kickbacks from inflated invoices they encouraged vendors to submit.”The two stand accused of skimming millions of dollars by manipulating the accounting systems, claiming improper bonuses and commissions, and using stolen money to pay other company executives. They are also facing conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges, filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District. The two are facing up to five years in prison if convicted on the federal charges.

Bronson Quon, John Hong, and Jonathan Skarie are among the other three executives being accused by the SEC, of participating in the scheme and helping to falsify accounting records.  Furthermore, two vendors supplying information technology services, took part in the scheme by inflating invoices and paying excess money to a company owned by Torino and Shakouri.  “(The case) brings to a close a regrettable period during which these former employees and outside contractors embezzled company funds from 2008-12,” iPayment said in a statement. “The company has cooperated fully with the government’s investigation and remains committed to doing so going forward.” iPayment said it disclosed the suspected thefts five years ago and said it changed accounting procedures after the case went public.”  [For more: The Acorn Newspaper]

City employee made $91K in personal charges on city credit cards

A city of Gainesville, Florida, employee who made more than $91,000 in fraudulent purchases with city credit cards in the last year and a half has been arrested, according to the Gainesville Police Department. Natwaina Clark, 33, who was employed as a staff assistant for the cultural affairs manager and the parks manager in Gainesville, now faces charges of grand theft and scheme to defraud, police said. According to her arrest report, Clark was hired in August 2015 and was given access to city credit cards to make business purchases. But police said Cultural Affairs Manager Russell Etling and Parks Manager John Weber discovered during a recent audit that their departments were over budget.

That’s when they realized Clark had submitted receipts and department paperwork for unapproved credit card purchases, police said. Their investigation showed that from November 2015 to March 13 of this year, Clark made 169 unapproved purchases totaling more than $91,598, according to the report. Clark was arrested Tuesday afternoon and is being held on $20,000 bond.  [For more: News4Jax]

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Three men arrested after they attempted to use counterfeit credit cards at Saks

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office in Florida arrested three men on felony charges Tuesday after they attempted to use counterfeit credit cards. Deputies responded to Saks Fifth Avenue at the Mall at University Town Center just after 2:00 p.m., for reports of possible fraud. According to loss prevention staff, these men entered the store and one attempted to use two credit cards that were declined and determined to be fraudulent. When the transaction was declined, the men exited toward the parking lot where they got into a black Cadillac Escalade.

Loss prevention directed responding deputies to the vehicle where they made contact with driver Maykel Medina, Alexander Brito-Magdaleno and Yosmani Alfonso-Cruz. In the back seat of the vehicle, deputies recovered seven counterfeit credit cards and a fraudulent driver’s license with Alfonso-Cruz’ photo. Medina was charged with a single count of Criminal Use of Personal Identification. He was released Wednesday on $1,500 bond. Brito-Magdaleno was charged with Trafficking in or Possessing Counterfeit Credit Cards. He was released Wednesday on $7,500. Alfonso-Cruz was charged with Possession of a Counterfeit Driver’s License and Trafficking in or Possessing Counterfeit Credit Cards. He was released Wednesday on $9,000 bond. The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are pending.  [For more: My Suncoast]

Shoplifter fights Belk’s employee

A North Charleston, South Carolina, man is behind bars after police say he fought a loss prevention associate at a Belk then fled to a neighborhood in Mount Pleasant.  The Mount Pleasant Police Department arrested 33-year-old Maurice Rashan Fulton.  Fulton’s arrest stems from an incident on Tuesday afternoon when a police officer responded  for a shoplifter who was fighting a loss prevention employee. The employee told the responding officer he saw the suspect on surveillance video walking to a rack of shirts, taking four polo shirts, bundle them into a ball and then conceal them under his jacket and pants.

The LP associate stopped the suspect and said the suspect then took an “aggressive stand in attempt to flee” with the stolen merchandise and a fight then started between the officer and the suspect with both going on the ground.  The report states the fight lasted a minute during which an alarm tower was knocked down near the cosmetic door.  The associate reported that the suspect continued to fight him, ignored his commands and told him that he has kids and he was not going to jail. The suspect then injured the officer’s elbow and fled down the center of the store near the parking garage.

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A concerned citizen told the MPPD officer that he saw the suspect behind a home. During the chase, police say the suspect jumped a fence to a backyard, then jumped an 8-foot wooden fence. Officers eventually detained the suspect after he was captured in the nearby woods.  The loss prevention associate sustained a puncture wound to his elbow, lacerations on his forearm and an abrasion to his head.  [For more: Live5 News]

Illegally harvested lobsters donated to homeless veterans

Environmental authorities in Massachusetts are donating lobsters seized from an illegal harvest to homeless veterans. Massachusetts Environmental Police say they found the lobsters during an inspection of an offshore trawler in New Bedford on Sunday. Police say they determined the vessel had exceeded the legal limit of 500 for lobsters caught outside state waters. Police say the crustaceans were caught on Georges Bank. They weren’t returned to the ocean because returning lobsters to different water conditions is potentially fatal. Instead, they were donated to the Veterans Transition House in New Bedford. The Veterans Transition House serves homeless and at-risk veterans and their families in southeastern Massachusetts.  [For more: Sioux City Journal]

BBB Lists Top 10 Most Common Counterfeit Gifts

The Better Business Bureau has released a list of the top ten goods that are most often counterfeited.
1.    Purses, shoes, and leather goods
2.    Smartphones, tablets, and other electronics such as “Beats” headphones
3.    Gift cards
4.    Software and computer games
5.    Sports memorabilia and apparel
6.    Watches and jewelry
7.    Sunglasses
8.    Perfume
9.    Blue jeans
10.  Sporting event and concert tickets

The BBB also recommended that consumers should also follow these suggested tips.
–    Shop in established stores and websites, and look for a return policy if shopping online.
–    Watch out for deals that appear to good to be true.
–    When in doubt, buy directly from the brands website or store.
–    Use caution when buying brand-name items from online marketplaces such as eBay or Craigslist, when you can’t inspect items.
–    Look for certificate of authenticity on memorabilia and only buy officially licensed gear from organizations such as the NFL or NBA.
–    Have jewelry or artwork appraised independently to verify value.  For more: The Sunbury News]

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