Brink’s heist saga: How do you fence stolen gems worth millions? Inside the jewelry black market in China
By JONATHAN MILLER
A woman looks at jewels in front of a display case, which is made of glass panels, in the jewelry shop of Ching Ming Fine Jewelry in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 14, 2014. The store has closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. Photo: Michael Short
Photo: Michael Short
The jewelry heist saga
It’s one thing to steal millions of dollars from a bank – you can count on many law enforcement agencies to investigate.
But what if you want to take that same amount (minus the thousands of dollars necessary to purchase the jewels) out of the country? Well, that’s what happened to three Chinese jewelry heisters in 2010. Then, in 2013, it was nearly 20 million U.S. dollars worth of jewels that disappeared from the San Francisco apartment of two Chinese nationals. Then in February of this year, it was an additional 2 million dollars in jewels that vanished from the homes of two brothers in China’s Guangdong province.
The heist scheme was orchestrated by a man who used the name and phone number of a Chinese friend he met at a hotel while vacationing in China. He told his friend that he wanted to give the two brothers a good deal because of their closeness, yet he’d make thousands of dollars.
Once the men agreed to the deal and had the jewels shipped into the U.S., the heist could be covered under the federal government’s Anti-Terrorism Act, which essentially makes it illegal to smuggle or transfer weapons or people across national or state lines without the express approval of the President.
What the Chinese government didn’t know about the heist was that their counterparts in the U.S. were waiting for the deal to occur.
On Nov. 15, 2010, in San Francisco, a man and woman called themselves “Mr. and Mrs. Zhang.” They asked for the help of a friend who was in China.
After receiving a tip from an informant that the couple had stolen “jewels worth millions of dollars” from their