KENTWOOD, Mich. — Two men from Ohio netted nearly $100,000 in diamonds through deception and diversion before they were tripped up during a visit to western Michigan.
The pair are accused of replacing genuine diamonds with cubic zirconia stones in several states, including Michigan, over a four-month period. They made the swap by keeping jewelry store clerks distracted.
Their successful run ended in late September after they obtained more than $7,000 in merchandise from a Jared jewelry store on 28th Street SE in Kentwood, court records show.
“I think organized retail fraud has really increased in the past couple of years,’’ said Kentwood Police Chief Thomas Hillen.
Demetrius E. Woodson, 27, and Rosean L. Rogers, 28, were arrested in late September after the theft in Kentwood and unsuccessful attempts in Grandville and Byron Center.
They face a multitude of charges, including first-degree retail fraud, a five-year felony. Both men have felony cases pending in Kent County Circuit Court.
They also face a federal charge of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A federal trial date has been set for late April.
Woodson, Rogers and unnamed co-conspirators visited stores in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and New Jersey, according to a federal indictment in Grand Rapids.
Here’s how it worked: They’d go into a jewelry store and ask to see a diamond. Another member of the conspiracy would distract the store clerk while the real gem was switched with the zirconia.
The fake gem was then returned to the clerk and they’d leave the store with the real diamond.
Occasionally, they’d get gems by prying open the display case without being detected.
A federal indictment indicates they got diamonds or tried to get diamonds on at least eight occasions between May and September of 2018. On three occasions, they entered jewelry stores, but decided not to act.
The group arrived in Kent County on Sept. 26, visiting the Jared store on 28th Street east of Broadmoor Avenue SE. While one of the group distracted a clerk, the other broke glass in a display case and took four rings valued at more than $7,000, court records show.
The group then went to a Jared store in Grandville. Employees there had been alerted to the Kentwood incident “and recognized the individuals from their clothing descriptions,’’ court records show.
The Grandville clerk did not show them merchandise. The suspects left and headed to the Jared store at Tanger Outlets on 84th Street SW in Byron Township, court records show.
They were recognized and, once again, were not shown merchandise. Police nabbed them in a traffic stop. Officers recovered a butter knife and six loose, clear stones.
Federal charges were filed against Woodson and Rogers in January. Court records do not indicate how the pilfered diamonds were sold.
Hillen, the Kentwood police chief, said it is not uncommon for thieves to sell stolen merchandise using online markets, such as Craigslist.
“With the Internet and the ease you can do transactions online, it’s opened the door for moving property like that,’’ Hillen said.
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