On a late January evening, a handful of men sauntered into the local Jared The Galleria of Jewelry store, pulled out hammers and starting smashing glass.
Two of the three men snatched diamonds and jewelry from the cases, while the other one lifted an entire case off the table. Dropping their hammers, they walked out of the store as nonchalantly as they came in.
Investigators believed they met up after the heist in the nearby Target parking lot, taking off in separate vehicles after dumping their stolen getaway car in the lot.
This particular type of robbery has been seen all over the country in recent years, and court documents tie a particular group of individuals to these robberies from the East Coast to Wisconsin. The crew has ties to the Red Wings gang in Detroit and is believed to be responsible for at least 30 smash-and-grab robberies dating back at least a year, according to court documents.
No federal law enforcement officials will officially link the Jan. 26 Fort Wayne robbery to the now-arrested and oft-indicted crew, saying only that the case remains under investigation.
But court documents filed in the other cases paint identical pictures of high-end robberies: stolen cars, target surveillance, rendezvous points and thousands and thousands of dollars in merchandise pulled from shattered glass display cases.
On April 15, five men walked into Jared The Galleria of Jewelry in Mishawaka, their stolen Dodge Caravan parked out front.
Within seconds the robbery was over, cases smashed and $249,000 in jewelry in their pockets. A witness saw the group go in, two waiting in the doorway to hold it. He saw all five hustle back to their van and take off.
The witness decided to follow it to a nearby hotel, where the men got out and into two other vehicles parked nearby, according to court documents.
Mishawaka police nabbed the five men, as well as a woman who allegedly had been paid $2,000 to be their getaway driver. She told police the group bought brand-new, shiny hammers at a Menards store before the robbery.
The federal criminal complaint against those individuals was dismissed in U.S. District Court in Northern District of Indiana, but the case was rolled into an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in Detroit in May.
The indictment lists 17 men and women and accuses them, in various combinations, of the April Mishawaka robbery, an October robbery of a Lux Bond & Green jewelry store in West Hartford, Connecticut; another Jared robbery on Sept. 24 in Toledo; the Nov. 25 robbery of Fink’s Jewelers in Sterling, Virginia; and the robbery of a jewelry store in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Nov. 15.
The indictment also accuses the crew of the attempted robbery of a jewelry store in Victor, New York, and the robbery of a Pennsylvania Jared The Galleria of Jewelry, both on Feb. 3.
In all the court documents, the mode of operation was nearly the same. The group steals some cars, buys some hammers, robs a jewelry store and heads for home. If they needed to case the jewelry store, they’d get a hotel room the day before.
Charles Leroy Hall, one of the men listed in the Mishawaka robbery, is charged in another indictment, accusing him of the March robbery of a Jared The Galleria of Jewelry in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Federal prosecutors allege that Hall worked the Chattanooga robbery with Trayvon Leonte Shelton, who worked with another member of the crew in robbing a store in West Bend, Wisconsin, of its Rolex watches and some diamonds right after Christmas.
In 2011, some members of the crew were mentioned in another federal criminal complaint in Michigan. They were accused of stealing $1.2 million in jewelry in about 45 robberies in 22 states beginning in 2006. The jewelry stolen was brought back to the Detroit area and then sold, according to court documents.
In the older case, about 50 individuals are believed to have participated those robberies.
The most recent cases accuse more than 20 individuals in at least three jurisdictions of multiple counts of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery.
No one will comment about the status of the January Jared robbery.
FBI officials in the Detroit office said this month that this group of robberies remains under investigation.
Most of those arrested remain behind bars in federal custody while the various cases move through the system.
In paperwork asking for their continued detention, federal prosecutors describe the crew as violent, highly mobile, well-organized individuals acting together, who "repeatedly place the safety of the public at risk."