Two arrested in 'movie-like' heist of jewelry store

September 13, 2011 10:15:13 AM PDT
We've gotten an exclusive look into what police say is an experienced and well-organized burglary ring hitting high-end jewelry stores in Houston and Dallas.

In February, we first told you about the burglary of the Karat 22 store on Hillcroft near the Westpark Tollway. We now have exclusive details about the crime carried out like a movie plot line.

Even seasoned detectives were struck by how this crime was carried out. It took six hours for the crooks to get away with $6 million worth of jewelry at Karat 22. Now seven months and many work hours later, two brothers and a man one of them met in jail are charged with engaging in organized criminal activity.

With its fine gold and watches, Karat 22 Jewelers is close to its old self. Seven months ago, it was hit by thieves. Coming back has been a slow process.

"It hurts a lot when you lose things like that," Karat 22 owner Aku Patel said.

The break-in was dramatic -- $6 million in jewelry was gone is just a few hours time. The investigation was long and tedious, but now Houston police say a decade of crime that afforded brothers John Dewayne O'Brien and Kelvin Lynn O'Brien, as well as Jason Clay Kennedy, a life of luxury is now over.

"They lived well and purchased well and enjoyed themselves for a time," said Sgt. Frank Quinn of HPD's Major Offenders Division.

Quinn believes the three are responsible for 30-plus jewelry heists in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida dating back 11 years. The last known is Karat 22, where police say they cut through a metal roof and then six-inch concrete and steel to get to the vault. They also ransacked the store. Within hours, they were melting Rolexes, bracelets and necklaces.

Police say surveillance video showed two males dragging what appeared to be heavy objects from the area behind the jewelry store and into a Ford dually truck. Further investigation identified Kennedy, of Crowley, Texas, as the truck's owner. The same truck was seen driving around the business several times on the night of the burglary.

"It's in a form that you're not going be able to identify anymore because it doesn't have serial numbers," said Sgt. Peter Schneider with the Houston Police Department.

The brothers, who are in the gold business themselves, quickly turned the melted gold into $3 million in cash with which investigators say John O'Brien bought a million dollar crane to start a business.

His brother was flashier, they say, buying a Range Rover, Mercedes Benz and $160,000 cabin cruiser. What they didn't count on was a tenacious Patel family who pulled surveillance video from all neighboring businesses, which eventually linked the crime to Kennedy.

"Almost three weeks of surveillance from each and every camera in the vicinity," Patel said.

Saw blades left behind only available at a certain hardware store helped lead police to John O'Brien, 47. Both he and Kennedy were arrested in the Dallas area on September 6; the younger O'Brien is still on the run.

"This teaches you to be vigilant," Patel said.

The Patels are still getting back to normal.

"People work all their life and then one fine day, there's nothing there and these guys are there and are having a ball," Patel said.

All three men are charged with engaging in organized criminal activity. Officers say Kennedy, 40, stood out on surveillance video because he's 7 foot 1. The FBI is now involved in these cases. And needless to say, Karat 22 has seriously increased its security.

Detectives think Kelvin O'Brien, 44, is in the Dallas area and they are hoping someone will spot him and turn him in. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Kelvin O'Brien is urged to contact the HPD Major Offenders Division at 713-308-3100 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

Police also say gold buyers need to make sure items they accept for cash are not stolen.

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