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UPDATE & Arrest

HPD: Trio of suspected jewelry thieves swiped $6M in merchandise from Houston store

by khou.com staff
Posted on September 13, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Updated today at 12:40 PM

HOUSTON – A trio of suspected jewelry thieves were facing charges Monday after police say they swiped more than $6 million worth of gold, watches and diamonds from a Houston jewelry store.

Kelvin O’Brien, John O’Brien and Jason Kennedy are all charged with engaging in organized crime.

John O’Brien and Kennedy were being held on $12 million each Monday. Kelvin O’Brien was still at large.

According to court documents, Houston police investigators were alerted to the case after a break-in at the Karat 22 jewelry store in the 5600 block of Hillcroft on February 5, 2011.

The owner of the store told investigators his alarm went off that night, but when he checked security cameras from his home computer, he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

Assuming it was a false alarm, he went back to sleep.

But the next day, when he showed up at the store, he realized he’d been burglarized.

The victim told police someone had cut a hole through the roof of his store and cut their way into his vault.

The victim said 155 kilos of 22-carat gold, precious stones and Rolex watches were missing.

Surveillance video from a nearby business showed a pickup truck cruising the area on the night of the robbery, police said. Around 4:30 a.m., police said two men could be seen dragging heavy objects from the store to the truck.

Police said they later discovered the truck belonged to Kennedy.

Investigators also said they found several cut off blades at the scene of the crime, apparently used by the suspects to slice through the vault.

Houston investigators then spoke with an IRS North Texas Asset Forfeiture Task Force investigator, who said he’d been investigating a series of jewelry store burglaries in Texas and Oklahoma similar to the break-in at the Karat 22 store.That investigator said he’d identified Kelvin and John O’Brien, who both own businesses in Dallas at which jewelry is bought and sold, as suspects.

Kelvin O’Brien was previously charged with a jewelry store burglary in Dallas in 2007.

Investigators said they were able to determine that the cut off blades found at the scene of the Houston burglary were sold exclusively at Home Depot, and later found surveillance footage of John O’Brien purchasing some of the blades near his home in Fort Worth.

Investigators said when they searched John O’Brien’s home, they found appraisals for stolen diamonds.

An HPD officer interviewed the president of Millennium Precious Metals, who said he’d bought gold from the O’Briens in the past.

He said the brothers came in with two Home Depot buckets containing 99 pounds of melted-down 22-carat gold to sell on February 7.

Millennium Precious Metals purchased that gold for $1.6 million, which the purchaser said he wired to John O’Brien’s bank account.

Four days later, the president of Millennium Precious Metals said the O’Briens came back with about 85 pounds of melted-down gold, which he also purchased – this time for $1.3 million.

Soon after the burglary, police said Kelvin O’Brien paid cash for a $445,000 home, put in an $85,000 pool, bought a $100,000 Land Rover and a $100,000 boat.

Investigators said they later interviewed Kennedy, who admitted that he’d committed the Karat-22 burglary with the O’Briens.

Final suspect in elaborate jewelry store heists arrested

By ZAIN SHAUK HOUSTON CHRONICLE   Updated 07:59 p.m., Monday, September 26, 2011

Two days after a $6 million jewelry heist in Houston on Feb. 5, a 47-year-old man walked into a Dallas store lugging two buckets of melted gold.

It wasn't John O'Brien's first transaction at Millennium Precious Metals, but this time he was carrying 99 pounds of high-quality gold in Home Depot buckets, a load that would earn him $1.7 million in a single wire transfer.

Seven months later, O'Brien and two other suspects, the final one arrested Sunday, were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity after successfully burglarizing as many as 30 stores since 2000 in a sophisticated scheme that netted millions of dollars and allowed them to make large purchases. Among them: a Mercedes, Range Rover, cabin cruiser and a $500,000 house.

One suspect was also seen driving a Ferrari and another bought heavy-duty cranes with his earnings.

Home Depot blades

On multiple occasions after their largest heist, at Karat 22 Jewelers on Hillcroft, the suspects brought buckets of melted gold to Millennium Precious Metals in Dallas, where the owner made multiple purchases from the group, wiring a total of more than $3 million for the high-quality gold, according to court records.

Investigators were aided in their search by circular saw blades left behind at Karat 22 Jewelers, one of three Houston jewelry shops targeted, Quinn said.

The blades were only available at Home Depot and searches of purchases made by shoppers helped investigators identify a suspect who appeared in surveillance camera footage wearing the same clothes on multiple visits, including one where he bought items with a credit card that was in his name.

Those whom the suspects interacted with, including their relatives and friends, began to grow curious about the trio's activities.

Spotted in Dallas

O'Brien's brother, Kelvin Lynn O'Brien, 44, was the final suspect taken into custody after he was arrested in Dallas and booked into Dallas County Jail, according to the Dallas Police Department. He is being held on $12 million bail.

He will be transferred to Harris County Jail and tried in Harris County District Court, said Sgt. Frank Quinn, of the Houston Police Department, who was the lead investigator on the case.

Suspects Jason Clay Kennedy, 40, and John O'Brien were being held in Harris County Jail and will face charges in Harris County District Court.

A Houston woman spotted Kelvin O'Brien in a Dallas night club and informed an off-duty Dallas SWAT officer who was also there. He looked up Kelvin O'Brien's name and photo on his phone, then approached and arrested him after the suspect cursed at him and tried to jump over a table and run away, Quinn said.

The three were tracked down after an extensive investigation by the Houston Police Department and FBI that authorities believe brought an end to the trio's routine of sawing through jewelry store vault roofs, clearing out safes and walking out of the properties without being detected, Quinn said.

They had also set up their own gold store operations as fronts so that they could analyze their own security systems and melt down their loot before selling the gold to purchasers, he said.

Melting jewelry

Kelvin O'Brien's employee at his gold store thought something was wrong when she noticed him dismantling and melting Rolex watches and fine jewelry, according to court records.

"I have to melt this stuff," he told her. "It could be stolen for all I know."

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Indo American News

Daring Heist at Karat 22 Jewelers
Posted on 13 February 2011
By Jacob David & Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: In a daring midnight heist, thieves broke into Karat 22 Jewelers in Little India on Hillcroft, this past Saturday, February 5 and cleared out millions of dollars worth of jewelry.

“This seems to be an extremely professional job. The thieves broke through the roof precisely into the control room that has the security access,” said Aku Patel, a pioneer in the Indian business community and owner of Karat 22. “Within minutes they knocked out the video cameras, switched off the alarm system and disabled the entire security system.”

Patel surmised that the thieves used a sophisticated machine to saw off the vault lock, open its door and looted the entire contents. “Thirty years of my jewelry collections are gone. The value is guesstimated to be several millions,” he said in an exclusive interview with Indo American News.

While no implications were directly made, Patel thinks that this had to be an inside job, carried out by individual contractors hired by the security company.

Man Standing Next To Vault Door

“The way it was so perfectly done, it is not easy for ordinary outsiders to know where the security system and safe was located. It is only accessed by my family and the individuals who installed the security. The people who did this obviously knew the layout even from the roof. Only the alarm company knows the full details of our vault system. No one else would know where it is safe to put foot on the roof,” he added.

The vault door weighs several tons and is a good large room that measures a 12 feet square. The right corner of the ceiling of the vault shows a large two-foot square gaping hole where the thieves broke in and made their entry and exit.

“We are working with the Houston Police Department and have hired out a private firm to help with the investigations to nab the thieves,” Patel said. “Insurance will only cover part of the inventory stolen.”

A calm and poised Aku Patel, stands by the broken safe door. He is more resolved to enhance his security system at Karat 22 Jewelers, and open for business right after. Photos: Jacob David

Previously, two years ago, right after Mother’s Day weekend, Karat 22 was broken into. “The thieves were random people of whom we had complete surveillance video,” recalled Patel. “They broke through the front door and smashed some showcases. One of the thieves even dropped his driver’s license! The cops caught him and he is now serving a 30 year sentence for robbery. We made a lot of security changes after that, but this time it was very carefully executed, almost like what you see in the movies,” added Patel.

Vault Ceiling Hole and Man Standing Inside The Vault Room

Patel said that he did not want the community to get anxious because of the heist. “We are working toward restarting and re-opening the shop very soon,” he said. “We have a strong line of suppliers with quality inventory that we plan to bring as soon as the security system is back in place. I have to make absolutely sure that this does not happen again.”

Patel is resolved to install the best technology and security money can buy to ensure this does not happen again.

“The community has to know what happened. We do not want such an incident happening again. We’d like to ask our community to be more vigilant and take steps to secure their businesses better at night,” Patel added.“Let’s look at this in a positive light: at least my family and staff are safe.”

The corner ceiling where thieves cut a 2 foot square hole to enter the vault from the roof and loot jewelery. The professionalism with which the heist was carried indicates that the thieves had complete knowledge of the security system and the layout where the vault was located inside Karat 22.

Aku Patel shows Indo American News the now empty steel vault that was broken into, in the far right corner ceiling is where the thieves cut a 2 feet square hole to enter and loot all the jewelry

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ABC - TV 13 Houston

'Movie-like' heist of Houston jeweler

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- An elaborately planned jewelry heist that can only be described as something out of a movie. It all went down at the Karat 22 Jewelers store in southwest Houston.

So close to Valentine's Day, 22 Karat Jewelers on Hillcroft near Harwin would normally be full of customers.

The store just got new inventory in.

"My staff, we haven't even seen it yet," said store owner Aku Patel.

And now they probably never will.

"He said everything, everything is gone," Patel said.

That's the phone call the owner got from his son Sunday morning when he arrived to open the store. Instead of finding their gold and diamond necklaces, bracelets, earrings and watches safely stowed in their vault, they were all gone.

"We are shocked," Patel said.

And how they were stolen is confounding.

"We can't even imagine how this can be done unless you have knowledge like we have," said Patel.

Since the crime is still fresh and crews are re-installing security systems, Patel didn't want us to show you how the crooks got in, but he let us see it. They made entry late last Saturday night through the roof, disabled the alarm and cut through 6-inch concrete and steel to get to the vault.

Once inside, they emptied an estimated $1 million worth of jewelry into garbage bags. Houston police are reviewing surveillance video on which there is more than one crook.

"It's not your normal, one shot criminal. These are really organized gangs. It's not the work of an ordinary criminal," Patel said.

Patel and his employees are still trying to figure out what all was taken. For now he wants to warn other jewelers or anyone who uses a vault for business.

"I feel like it is my duty to let them know be careful," he said.

And while the heist is a major setback, Patel has managed to see the upside.

"We are grateful to God that we weren't hurt physically. Material things can always come back," he said.

The store is still open by appointment and will re-open completely in a couple of weeks. It has been broken into before, but that burglar we're told left his driver's license behind and is now in prison.

If you have any information on this case, you are asked to call Houston police.

Video of the news:

Houston Feb. 5, 2011

Saturday February 5, 2011 - Houston, Texas

On the left side of your screen you will find stories that were shared by the media regarding this daring heist.

Some points to help safeguard your business include:

Make 100 % sure that your entire premises are protected by your alarm system. This includes the exterior walls, windows, vents, fans ducts, air conditioning and heating systems and especially the roof or floor.
If your business is NOT a self standing location, make sure that your alarm protects all common walls and that there are no open spaces above the walls that lead into neighbors, passages or other areas. Attics and ceilings should be protected by motion detectors and CCTV systems.

Motion detectors and CCTV cameras should cover your safe, vault, alarm panel and key pad, electric circuit panel, phone wire board and power back-up systems.

CCTV recording equipment should have a separate power back-up system.

Always respond to calls from your alarm company and make sure that they or the police department physically inspect your premises. This included a low battery signal or if the system activates and then does not reset. Be suspicious of continuous false alarms and do NOT just change the sensitivity of the system.

Safes and vaults should NOT be located within arms reach of any common or exterior walls.
Do you know the UL label means?
TL 15 or 30 = the door is tool resistant for 15 or 30 minutes
TRTL 15 or 30 = the door torch and tool resistant for 15 or 30 minutes
TL 30 x 6 or TRTL 15 x 6 or TR TL 30 x 6
- in other words x 6 = means that the sides, top and bottom also have been rated.
There is NO guarantee - with new technology a professional might access your safe/vault in less time.

Consider adding a second separate alarm system.

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