FBI joins hunt for Aspen thieves | AspenTimes.com

FBI joins hunt for Aspen thieves

Joel Stonington
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Following the theft of more than $600,000 worth of goods, many store owners questioned how a group of thieves could have allegedly pulled off back-to-back heists two weeks apart. Not to mention the fact that the group was caught on video stealing in Aspen a year ago.

The thieves allegedly stole more than $100,000 in goods from McHugh Antiques on Dec. 1, and about $500,000 in jewelry from Buccellati, an East Hopkins Avenue store, on Dec. 18.

Both store operators and Aspen police say mistakes were made in the chain of communication, though now store owners and police say they are better prepared.

Photos taken of the group at Meridian, another Aspen jewelry store, during a theft in 2006 were never distributed in the community, though photos have now been published around the state and distributed to law enforcement agencies.

Indeed, the scope of the investigation has broadened with the arrival of agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were in Aspen Friday investigating the December thefts, though neither police nor the FBI would comment on developments in the case.

Another issue that further stressed store owners was the fact that the police officer who responded to Buccellati did not know of the theft at McHugh.

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“I can see, in hindsight, that people wanted more communication,” Sgt. Bill Linn said, though he personally called stores following the first theft.

In response, jewelry stores have set up a phone list to alert owners if suspicious folks show up or if there is some kind of incident. And many jewelry stores in the area have increased security precautions.

However, it is unclear if stores will use the list because some owners have concerns about reputation if an item is stolen. For some owners, it’s better to simply write off a theft as a loss than to let people know publicly.

“It tends to happen in situations where we’re dealing with a corporation,” said Pitkin County Detective Ron Ryan. “They tend to have more rules and policies.”

It can be hard to even prosecute things like thefts once insurance has already paid out, said Deputy District Attorney Gail Nichols.

“If someone was stealing blindly and boldly from you as a business it could potentially hurt a business to be made out to be having a weak link,” said Mary Catherine Vaughn, owner of B’Jewel.

Thefts from jewelry stores increased nationally more than 15 percent in 2006, according to the Jewelers Security Alliance, to 1,267 criminal events. The dollar loss from those thefts totaled $73.3 million last year.

jstonington@aspentimes.com