Gang Destroys Jewelry Store During Burglary
Source: Thomson Dialog
The damage caused by a gang of thieves has forced a local merchant to shut down one of his stores during the busiest shopping time of the year.
The 23rd Street location of Maharaja's Fine Jewelry & Gifts will be open this holiday season, but the Panama City Beach store will not, store owner Manu Samtani said Wednesday.
The destruction caused by a gang of thieves has forced a remodel of the Beach store, located in the Grand Panama Beach shopping center, that will take about seven weeks, Samtani said.
"We are open," Samtani said of the Panama City store. "We are fully operational today, and we'll be open with a full bang for Black Friday."
The destruction and loss caused by the gang was the worst Samtani has seen since he started the business in 1977.
"There was lot of damage. Every showcase in the Beach store has been smashed," Samtani said. "The town store, they also broke a lot of the showcases, but we were lucky that Tommy's Glass Co. has worked with us hand in hand." Samtani said he does not know exactly how much the thieves got away with; store employees still are doing an inventory.
Holiday shopping accounts for 30 percent to 40 percent of Samtani's business.
"I still cannot believe this could happen in this beautiful city of Panama City," Samtani said. "I can see it in a big city, but I can't see it Panama City." The third jewelry store hit by the thieves, Surf Jewelers near the Thomas Drive and U.S. 98 flyover, also was open Wednesday.
State and local investigators are looking for more than six people in connection to three Bay County burglaries and a string of heists across the Southeast.
"We're are diligently searching for evidence ... that would lead to the perpetrators," said Dave Humphries of the Panama City Beach police department.
Panama City police officers arrested one man on Monday in connection to the crimes. Humphries said investigators have sent in evidence to be examined that will link him to the Panama City Beach burglaries.
"We will have charges against him at some point," Humphries said.
Maurice Robinson, 31, was ordered held without bail Tuesday on charges from the Panama City police department for burglary, possession of burglary tools and grand theft. He was arrested early Monday morning after leading Panama City police on a brief chase from Maharaja's Fine Jewelry & Gifts on 23rd Street.
The thieves started about 5 a.m. with Maharaja's Fine Jewelry & Gifts in the Grand Panama Beach shopping complex on Middle Beach Road. They hit Surf Jewelers 23 minutes later. Finally, they struck the Maharaja's store on 23rd Street at 5:40 a.m., police said.
Witnesses to the 23rd Street break-in helped officers spot two getaway vehicles, and police were able to catch Robinson as he fled one of the cars on foot. The thieves in the other vehicle got away.
State law enforcement agents said this week that the three Bay County burglaries match a string of jewelry store and pawnshop heists that stretch from Palm Beach County to Dothan, Alabama and over to South Carolina.
Among them, a burglary last month at a Friedman's Jewelers in Marianna and another at a Gainesville Friedman's in which one man was arrested and several others escaped after leading sheriff's deputies on a 100-mph chase.
Copyright (c) 2007, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.