PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - The FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force and a dozen local police departments teamed up to track down one of the most notorious smash and grab jewelry store robbery crews to strike this region. According to investigators, the crew set in motion as many as 15 armed smash and grab robberies across the tri state area that netted over $8 million in stolen high end watches and jewelry, and terrorized store employees and innocent customers that stood in their way.
According to authorities, the crew struck in South Jersey, Delaware, out on the Main Line and King of Prussia. But investigators had to track them all the way to California and Utah, then back east to Kentucky, Missouri, Maine and our area in order to nail this group of professional thieves.
The thieves moved with the speed and precision of a SWAT team, and the most they were in a store was around 40 seconds. The crew was led by Kenny Williams and Rufus Lawson, and their level of skill came with extensive practice and preparation. According to the FBI, crew members practice slicing the silicone around the tops of jewelry cases, so they can remove the glass and scoop up the merchandise, which was a similar tactic used in their Ogden, Utah robbery.
After three robberies at Tourneau Jewelers in the King of Prussia Mall, the task force began to crack the case. Some of the ring’s senior members were already tentatively identified, and investigators traced the crew as they headed to South Street in late August 2012.
They watched as three of the suspects, including Williams and Lawson, went to several stores in an attempt to sell three high end Rolex watches that they stole from Tourneau’s the day before. This was when police caught Kenny Williams, holding three watches with tags on them, in a lengthy foot pursuit.
Philadelphia Police handled the arrests and charged the suspects with receiving stolen property, but task force members didn’t reveal that the FBI was onto the smash and grab crew. Back at FBI headquarters, task force members and local police had the break they were looking for.
Rufus Lawson called them, and offered them anything they wanted.
As investigators pieced it all together, the robberies kept coming, including a robbery at Bernie Robbins Jewelers in Radnor Township. The thieves invaded the jewelry store with guns drawn, and made off with more than 30 Rolex watches. Although their loot amounted to nearly half a million dollars, they missed something.
According to Harvey Rovinsky, President of Bernie Robbins Jewelers, The Jewelers’ Security Alliance, made up of the top 50 jewelers in the nation, worked closely with investigators to bring down this ring and any others.
“If something happens, even if it’s an attempt, even suspicious activity, 50 jewelers through the country know about it at once,” said Rovinsky.
Detective Shawn Dietrich handled the case for Radnor police, and according to Dietrich, the robbers left behind a security jacket and a hat. These items were key pieces of evidence, and were quickly turned over to the FBI task force.
“They were able to end up getting DNA evidence off it by cutting out the collar from people sweating; they were able to cut that out. We sent the DNA to the lab,” said Detective Dietrich.
Investigators knew the Radnor Robbery looked very similar to the smash and grab, takeover robbery at Stuart Kingston Jewelers in Wilmington, Delaware. Video footage revealed the suspects blowing through the front door and corralling and tying up the employees and customers before forcing the owner’s son, Edward Stein, to unlock a safe at the rear of the store.
The robbers rushed off with almost $4.5 million in jewelry, watches and a $2 million diamond encrusted ruby sculpture, known as the Liberty Bell Ruby.
According to sources, the bandits returned to a parking lot at 52nd and Parkside in Philadelphia. The crew usually met in this lot before and after almost all of their robberies. As they divided up the loot from the Wilmington heist, they decided to strip the stolen sculpture of its 50 diamonds.
Concerned about fencing the seven pound ruby and not knowing its real value, the bandits threw the sculpture in a dumpster at a public housing complex in South Philadelphia. After finding out how much it was worth the next day, they returned to the dumpster to retrieve it, only to find that the dumpster had already been emptied.
The smash and grab rip-offs continued, and Govberg’s Jewelers on Montgomery Avenue in Ardmore was their next target. After neutralizing the security guard, the crew smashed and scooped their way through the jewelry cases. They escaped with $400,000 in Breitling and Cartier watches.
Finally in early March 2012, the thieves broke into Jay Roberts Jewelers in Evesham, NJ. This time they escaped in less than a minute with $450,000 in Breitling and Cartier watches.
Once again the robbers left something behind, but this time it was the hammer they used to smash the glass cases. Police and the FBI task force were eventually able to track the hammers they used to Home Depot and Lowe’s stores. They were able to get DNA off the hammer and off the clothing that was left behind.
Video from those Lowe’s and Home Depot stores showed the crew members without their masks and disguises.
Investigators called it "old school police work" that tracked them down.
With all the evidence collected, investigators are now able to say this daring smash and grab crew was recruited by Darrell Williams and David Story, both in their mid-40s and from Philadelphia. Williams and Story were sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. They also found out that crew leader, Rufus “RU” Lawson sold off most of the stolen watches and jewelry.
Lawson was just sentenced to 10 years, and they have been ordered to pay over $5 million in restitution for the items stolen during this wave of robberies.
Although investigators are more than pleased to put these guys in prison, they still have concerns.
Williams and Story were each sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. Lawson was just sentenced to 10 years.
They have been ordered to pay over $5 million dollars in restitution.