Rash of jewelry thefts is big problem

HOUSTON The FBI is now investigating because of the sheer frequency of the thefts and the fact, agents say, that those involved are becoming more and more brazen.

The FBI's violent crimes and gang task force has taken over this case from the Houston Police Department. It's trying to determine if those who robbed a traveling jewelry salesman at a gas station near Bissonnet and Kirby might also have ripped off two other salesmen in similar schemes in recent weeks.

In Wednesday's heist, an estimated $1 million in jewelry and gems were stolen. Days before that theft, another salesman was attacked after picking up his merchandise from a jewelry store in Rice Village. Three days prior, three men stole about $600,000 from a jewelry dealer in southern Montgomery County.

Steve Silver, president of Jewelry Appraisal Services and advisor to the Texas jeweler's security hotline, says such attacks have happened on and off for years. He says the criminals spend a lot of time and a lot of miles selecting their victims.

"These people are followed for sometimes days, could be followed miles and miles in their car," Silver explained. "They just wait for the right time to strike, when he doesn't believe there's anybody following him or when he believes he's in the clear. Eventually, though, they have to stop for gas."

About three years ago, police arrested half a dozen suspects in a similar scheme.

The FBI says a rash of similar crimes have occurred recently in Dallas and San Antonio. Three people were arrested today outside a Galleria area jewelry store for suspicious activity, but agents can't say yet if they can be linked to any of these crimes.

The risk apparently is so great that some insurance companies are refusing to insure traveling salesmen who do business in Houston.

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