FT. LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – The Broward Sheriffs Office is targeting what it describes as “unscrupulous vendors” who knowingly buy stolen gold jewelry. It follows an incredible spike in thefts of the jewelry from countless victims in Broward County.
Sheriff Al Lamberti released surveillance video from “Operation Meltdown” on Thursday in which seven shop owners from four Broward flea markets were arrested and charged with dealing in stolen property, a 3rd degree felony, and grand theft and petit theft.
“In every case our undercover detectives told them that the property had been stolen but the business owners didn’t care,” Lamberti told CBS4′s Peter D’Oench. “And they bought it anyway.”
Lamberti said the shop owners encouraged the undercover officers to come back with more stolen jewelry and even handed out their business cards.
Lamberti said as the price of gold has risen, so has the number of criminals trying to steal the metal. He said criminals often go to small business owners with kioks at flea markets to sell the gold. The business owners buy the gold and melt it down so it can not be traced to the victims.
Operation Meltdown took place over a month. It’s an ongoing operation. Three shop owners were arrested at the Swap Shop. There were two arrests at the Lauderhill Mall and two at the Oakland Park Flea Market. One shop owners was arrested the Festival Flea Market in Pompano Beach.
Lamberti said Swap Shop managers said they did not know about the illegal activity and said they welcomed this operation.
Lamberti told D’Oench that during the months of June, July and August, BSO received reports of 47 gold chains being stolen. That compares with no reports of gold chains being stolen during the same period last year.
“This gold fever has lead to a rise in residential burglaries where these thieves are breaking into houses to steal gold,” said Lamberti. “Then in a matter of minutes, these vendors can make it disappear.”
“Today gold is selling at $1613 an ounce,” said Lamberti. “By comparison, cocaine is selling at $800 an ounce. So you can see why gold is a hot commodity, for sellers as well as investors.”
BSO has been targeting this problem for months, releasing surveillance tape as well on Thursday of unwitting victims being attacked for their gold jewelry.
“The message here is that you are not going to have a place to sell it (the stolen jewelry). The only place you are going is to jail,” said Lamberti. “We may not be able to stop the theft of this jewelry but we can cut off access to the stolen property.”
BSO Sgt. Ramon Perez said, “One of the biggest things we see in these thefts is that people have a habit of leaving items in their car. Criminals are tempted by what people are leaving in those cars. And car burglaries are up. This is a crime of opportunity.”
Lamberti says this is an ongoing operation. If anyone knows anyone who is dealing in stolen gold jewelry, they should call Broward Crimestoppers at (954) 493—tips.
BSO robbery detectives worked with Fort Lauderdale, Sunrise, Lauderhill, Coconut Creek, Coral Springs and Margate Police.
Those arrested include 48-year-old Sin Yul Ahn of Weston, 42-year-old Mohammed Razqoullah of Miami, 22-year-old Francisco Monroygonzalez of North Lauderdale, 37-year-old Moubtassem Zaarour of Lauderhill, 25-year-old Manuel Dejesus of Tampa, 24-year-old Mahmoud Yaman of Hialeah and 56-year-old Zvi Due of Fort Lauderdale.
Anyone with information about criminals or businesses dealing in stolen gold is urged to call and report it to Broward Crime Stoppers at (954) 493-TIPS (8477).