D.C.-based crew charged with robbing Asian American-owned jewelry stores along East Coast

Matthew M. Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, arrives for a Wednesday news conference to announce charges involving a D.C.-based robbery ring that allegedly targeted jewelry stores in four East Coast states. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary

Authorities have dismantled a D.C.-based robbery ring they allege used stolen vehicles in robberies of Asian American-owned jewelry stores along the East Coast, netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal proceeds, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.

After conducting raids in the District, Virginia, Maryland and California, officials said, they arrested eight men in the case. They said eight others named in an indictment were already in custody. Prosecutors said they confiscated firearms and $300,000 from a safe in one of the residences.

Though officials said the crew based their operations in D.C., all of the stores that were robbed between January 2022 and January of this year were outside the nation’s capital. Four were in Northern Virginia, three in New Jersey and one each in Pennsylvania and Florida, authorities said.

A D.C. police vehicle in the the city’s Truxton Circle neighborhood Wednesday, the site of one of the raids, which in total yielded eight arrests. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Al Drago

Matthew M. Graves, D.C.’s top federal prosecutor, said while all the stores are owned by Asian Americans, no hate-crime charges are being considered. He said the stores were not targeted because of the owners’ ethnicity, but rather because the suspects thought their stores carried a type of gold they believed was easy to sell.

“These were takeover-style armed robberies meant to terrify and overwhelm store owners and employees,” James Dennehy, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Newark, N.J, said at a news conference in D.C.

Dennehy described many of the targeted jewelry stores as family-owned. “The violent and reckless actions of the alleged subjects in this investigation are astounding,” he said.

All 16 defendants were named in the indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in D.C. charging them with conspiracy to commit robbery. Some face additional counts that include carjacking and using firearms in crimes of violence. Officials said none of the suspects made court appearances on Wednesday, and it could not be determined if they have attorneys. Authorities said they range in age from 20 to 45. A dozen live in D.C., two in Maryland and one each in Virginia and California.

The announcement of Wednesday’s operation came amid a spike in carjackings and robberies in D.C. that authorities have struggled to control since the start of the pandemic. Robberies in D.C. are up 67 percent this year compared to this time in 2022, according to police data.

D.C. police have reported 662 carjackings so far this year, a 102 percent increase over this time in 2022. Police have said the suspects typically fall into two categories: people seeking joyrides, and those using stolen vehicles to commit other crimes.

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors in D.C. charged an 18-year-old with carjacking vehicles at gunpoint and unknowingly selling them to undercover D.C. police officers posing as buyers. Those officers paid between $1,200 and $3,800 for the vehicles, which had been taken to a garage on Florida Avenue in Northeast Washington, according to the indictment.

Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District, said carjacking and stealing vehicles for profit “is a trend that we’re monitoring.” Graves said the D.C. area has “seen an unprecedented rise in carjackings, and more recently, in armed robberies.”

In a new attempt at curbing the crimes, Graves said he has instructed prosecutors in his office to “strongly consider” charging juveniles ages 16 and 17 as adults in cases in which they are accused of multiple robberies. He said “sprees and patterns are not impetuous crimes of a juvenile who temporarily lost control.”

Authorities said the case involving the jewelry store robberies began with arrests in D.C. of two men charged in illegal firearms cases. Graves said those investigations uncovered a more coordinated robbery scheme targeting the jewelry stores, including two in Falls Church and two in Springfield, Va. Prosecutors said the case then sprawled to four states, involving many local and federal law enforcement officers. Authorities said the robberies were carried out in similar fashion by armed men disguised in dark clothing, masks and gloves.

Authorities declined to provide precise locations of Wednesday’s raids but did confirm one was at a two-story rowhouse in the District, on First Street Northwest in the Truxton Circle neighborhood. Police said the $300,000 found in a safe was at a location outside of D.C.

Police and prosecutors said they could not put a total dollar amount on what was taken from the stores, but estimated the total was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dennehy said owners “lost large sums of inventory.”

Acting D.C. police chief Pamela A. Smith told reporters that “while this investigation took some time, the message is very clear. If you choose to recklessly disregard safety in D.C., we collectively will do everything we can to find and hold those folks accountable.”



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