Brink’s heist mystery: questions arise about a timeline that ‘isn’t right’

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It’s been more than two months since the multimillion-dollar robbery of jewelry from a large Brink drilling rig at a truck stop in Grapevine, but the key facts about the high-profile crime remain at stake.

For example, there is debate about the value of the stolen goods, with estimates ranging from less than $10 million to over $100 million. And questions are now swirling around the timeline captured in a Brink’s legal filing and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office documents suggesting an almost impossibly fast journey for the tractor-trailer.

So much is known: A large machine from Brink, loaded with the wares of jewelers participating in the International Gem and Jewelry Show, took off from the San Mateo County Event Center on July 11 for a warehouse about 370 miles south in downtown. LA

From there, the players in the case disagree. Brink’s said in a lawsuit that its two drivers made the roughly 498-mile overnight trip from San Mateo to the Flying J Travel Center in Lebec in about 2 hours and 4 minutes, even fitting in a stop along Interstate 5. That distance so fast that the vehicle should have been traveling at speeds in excess of 140 mph.

It would take more than four hours to drive the route while respecting the speed limits.

Jerry Kroll, attorney for the victim’s jewelers, who number more than a dozen, said the sequence of events described by Brink’s “makes no sense.”

‘Why aren’t we told what happened here? This can’t be,” Kroll said. “Our customers deserve explanations. The victims suffered a life-changing theft… and they are presented with a series of facts that are not true.”

It’s unclear whether the improbability of the timeline prepared by Brink’s and the Sheriff’s Department can be attributed to a simple mistake or some other mundane explanation. Similar warnings apply to questions about the timing of the authorities’ response to the crime, which saw thieves steal 22 bags of loot while, according to Brink’s, one of the drivers was dozing in the sleeping area of ​​his vehicle and the other eating. pick up was at the Flying J .

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An incident report from the Sheriff’s Department, reviewed by The Times, said both drivers told a sheriff’s deputy that their vehicle had left San Mateo at about 12:01 am — information also stated by Brink’s in a legal filing. At 2:05 am the large rig arrived at the Flying J and the driver went to get his meal, Brink’s said. Upon his return 27 minutes later at 2:32 am, Brink’s said, the driver found the 18-wheeler had been compromised. A press release issued by the Sheriff’s Department on July 18 said the theft occurred around the same time.

The sheriff’s incident report, which was drawn from initial interviews with the drivers, said deputies responded to a “vehicle break-in call” at the truck stop around 3:56 a.m. how much time has passed between the crime, the report and the response from the authorities.

When asked about the chronology, Sgt. Michael Mileski said, “We are unwilling to provide current information at this time,” although he noted that investigators from the department’s major crimes bureau had conducted in-depth interviews with everyone involved.

Brink’s spokeswoman Dana Callahan said the company “continues to work with law enforcement agencies investigating this incident. We are questioning those agencies about their investigations.”

Kroll said the most unlikely element of Brink’s revealed chronology relates to the 18-wheeler’s journey as it approached the Grapevine. Brink’s has said the vehicle stopped at the Buttonwillow rest area at about 1:49 a.m. to allow one of the drivers to use the bathroom, then proceeded to the Flying J, which reached it about 16 minutes later. The Buttonwillow rest stop is about 55 miles from the Flying J. If you want to cover that distance in just over 15 minutes, you’ll need to travel at speeds over 200 mph.

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“It’s not believable,” Kroll said.

Recently, two Times journalists made separate car journeys over that 55-mile stretch of Interstate 5. One of the journeys took 46 minutes and the other, completed in traffic that was sometimes very heavy, took 1 hour 21 minutes.

The Flying J Travel Center in Lebec was the location of a jewelry heist from Brink in July.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

The timeline was first revealed in an August 4 lawsuit filed by Brink’s against the affected jewelry companies, whose merchandise the company was transporting to the LA area for another trade show. The complaint is part of a wider legal dispute between the Richmond, Va., company and the jewelers over the size of the stolen loot.

De Brink’s lawsuit alleged that the stolen items had a total value of $8.7 million — an amount he said was derived from agreements signed by his jewelry business customers. The complaint seeks to limit any payout Brink’s would have to make to the jewelers to that amount because they “significantly understated the value of their shipments.” (Some jewelers have said they valued their merchandise less than their market-leading cost to reduce shipping costs.)

The jewelry stores later claimed in a lawsuit against Brink’s and other parties that the behavior of the unnamed tractor-trailer drivers was “gross negligence” — and that “lax security” by the company allowed the theft. The lawsuit for alleged breach of contract and additional claims said the jewelry companies’ merchandise was worth about $100 million. It is demanding at least $200 million in restitution and damages.

The sheriff’s incident report, dated July 11, reveals new details about the robbery.

Written by a deputy sheriff who arrived at the scene, the report said the driver who dined at the Flying J found on his return to the vehicle that the lock “had been cut away and the bolts, where the lock once sat, had been bent. was nowhere [sic] to be found.”

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The sleeping driver noted that he “didn’t see who committed the break-in or heard anything out of the ordinary, or noticed they were being followed by anyone,” the report said. But, it said, the thieves left something behind: “metal fragments on the underside of the trailer’s locking mechanism.”

The incident report said the tractor-trailer’s cargo — including gems, jewelry, watches and other precious items — was in “orange-marked Brinks bags.” It also stated that the blue 2019 Volvo Big rig was “marked Brinks.” It failed to notice the presence of vehicle security features that jewelers and others in the industry told The Times they expected Brink’s would have used when shipping high-value merchandise. For example, the report does not mention an alarm on the door of the Brink’s trailer or cameras anywhere on the vehicle.

Jewelry on display.

An evidence photo provided by the FBI shows a sample of items stolen in the Brink robbery.

(FBI)

Arnold Duke, president of the International Gem and Jewelry Show, said he “always thought there was an alarm on the door, but certainly never checked it.”

“I was under the impression that everything had satellite tracking, cameras and alarms,” ​​he said.

Callahan did not respond to a question about the vehicle’s security features, but has previously said Brink’s is not releasing any information on the subject as it could jeopardize operations.

Investigators believe the robbery was the work of sophisticated criminals, given the lack of violence and the speed of the thieves’ work, among other things. Investigators from the Sheriff’s Department, who are working with the FBI, said they obtained video footage related to the incident.

Jewelers say their business has been turned upside down by the loss of their merchandise. “For some of them [the theft] completely ruined their financial lives,” Kroll said.

As for the tricky timeline, he said, “Brink’s has some explaining to do to the court — and to my clients.”