El Itoco: object of desire.
El Itoco: object of desire.

$3 Million Emerald Arrives at Height of Jewelry Heist Season

In a small room near the front desk of the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana rests El Itoco, a 472-carat emerald crystal that is considered one of the finest in the world and valued and is valued at more than $3 million.

The emerald that was dug up from black shale in Colombia in 2008 is scheduled to remain on display at Bowers through early December.

Museum president Peter Keller was tight-lipped when asked by the Orange County Register about security, saying, "I can't get into that, but it's very high."

Let's hope he is correct and that the spate of jewelry heists reported recently in Orange Orange are not indicative of what is to come.

Dozens of clicks down from the El Itoco piece's link on the Register website's local news page is an item about a $100,000 reward being offered for information into an unsolved $5.8 million jewelry heist from San Juan Capistrano in July.

The hit on Monaco Jewelers at 33955 Doheny Park Road is referred to as one of the biggest and most sophisticated burglaries investigators have seen in Orange County. "It was very sophisticated, professional job," J. DelMonico, an Orange County sheriff's investigator, tells the Register's Salvador Hernandez. "One of the best we've seen."

$3 Million Emerald Arrives at Height of Jewelry Heist Season

As previously blogged in Crime Time, Orange County sustained four jewelry robberies in six days the last week of August.

A couple houses were hit on Aug. 30. After an open house in the 2000 block of Wind Cove Lane in Huntington Beach, homeowners discovered $30,000 worth of jewelry was missing. Residents of an oceanfront home in the 32000 block of Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach returned from a weekend trip that same night and discovered nearly $1 million worth of jewelry had been stolen.

Four evenings earlier, a courier dropping off about $50,000 worth of jewelry to Nuggets and Carats in the 28200 block of

Crown Valley Parkway
in Laguna Niguel was confronted by a man with a knife who made off with the loot.

On Aug. 25, three armed men robbed Baca's Jewelry Store in Laguna Beach of $600,000 worth of jewelry. Witnesses got a good look at the man holding the gun and the getaway white Ford Fusion, which turned out the car was registered to a San DiegoCounty woman who told police she'd loaned the vehicle to her daughter. The younger woman in turn told police she in turn had loaned the car to an acquaintance.

The aquaintance, 31-year-old Alonso Jose Lopez of Vista, not only fit the description of the Baca heist gunman, but he had a criminal record. The Fusion was later stopped in Oceanside and after a brief foot chase with officers and a police dog, Lopez was apprehended.

Further investigation led to the later arrests in San Diego of Pedro Avina Hernandez, 29, and Michael Dennis Burgin, 30. San Diego County's district attorney identified all three as belonging to a San Diego street gang. They have been charged with first-degree robbery, second-degree burglary, street terrorism and gang enhancements for being in a criminal street gang and using a firearm. They have pleaded not guilty.

Some of the stolen loot was recovered.

Brace yourself, El Itoco.


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