Three men accused of stealing $500,000 in jewelry from a private courier on Monday have each been charged with first-degree robbery and are each being held on $10 million bail.
Though the true identities of three alleged jewel thieves remain in question, King County prosecutors say the men arrested Monday night at a Chehalis gas station with $500,000 in stolen jewelry are part of a highly organized, well-funded and well-trained criminal organization.
The three are accused of ripping off a 43-year-old private diamond carrier who arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on a flight from Los Angeles on Monday morning and was attacked that afternoon outside his SeaTac motel, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Though each was charged with first-degree robbery under multiple aliases, they have been tentatively identified through fingerprints as Jorge Tapias-Jaramillo, 41; Jhonnatan Andres Villada Ruiz, 31; and Jhon Alexander Jaramillo Zuluaga, 25, charging papers say. The men, who are all believed to be from Colombia, are each being held in the Regional Justice Center in Kent in lieu of $10 million bail.
A fourth man managed to get away when state troopers moved in on a rented SUV at a gas station off Interstate 5, the charges say.
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None of the three men in custody “had any form of valid (or invalid) identification on them; no driver’s license, no passports, no identification cards, no travel documents,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Gary Ernsdorff wrote in charging papers.
The high bail amount was warranted because the suspects have no ties to the area and are suspected of being involved in other similar robberies of jewelry couriers, he noted.
“Without any visible sources of income, they are able to use air transport, and rent multiple vehicles and hotel rooms. They appear to have conducted surveillance on their target prior to the robbery. The robbery itself and subsequent get-a-way demonstrated a high level of training and was carried out with almost military-like precision,” Ernsdorff wrote.
After arriving at the airport, the diamond carrier sold several pieces of jewelry to a Seattle business, then made stops at a pawnshop, FedEx store and a 7-Eleven before heading back to his motel, the charges say.
As he unloaded a suitcase filled with jewelry from his rental car, a silver minivan drove directly at him, forcing him to jump back, the charges say. Two masked men jumped from the van and pushed the carrier to the ground. One pinned him down while the second man grabbed the suitcase and a third man slashed the tires on his rental car, say the charges. The suspects jumped back in the van and took off.
The carrier, who was bleeding from a head injury, went inside his motel and had the clerk call 911, the papers say. Deputies tracked the van to another motel nearby, where video surveillance footage showed the suspects arriving, then climbing into an SUV and abandoning the van in the parking lot, charging papers say.
Deputies contacted the State Patrol and “kept track of the (Dodge) Durango as it traveled southbound on I-5,” the charges say. The van stopped two hours later at the gas station in Chehalis, where three of the four suspects were arrested, say the charges, which don’t indicate how they tracked the SUV.
The stolen jewelry was recovered.
The charges note there have been a series of similar robberies and “all have been carried out with the same display of planning and sophistication.” Minivans are typically used and thieves puncture or slash the tires of victims’ vehicles, say the charges, noting more than $1 million in gold, diamonds and jewelry has been stolen. None of it has been recovered so far.
In October, a group of robbers boxed in a diamond couriers’ car on an Interstate 5 onramp in SeaTac, held the driver at gunpoint and stole $400,000 worth of gems. The tires on the couriers’ car were punctured, police said.
It’s unclear whether authorities think that heist is related to the Monday theft.