Members of a notorious national crime ring, who fled from two Newport Beach stores with about $8 million in gems after swift and terrifying take-over robberies, have been convicted and sentenced to prison.
The seven-year, $16-million crime spree stretched from California to Florida, authorities said. The ring was known for theatrics, efficiency and the value of its loot.
In all, 12 men were convicted or pleaded guilty to robbery, and conspiracy and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal law aimed at organized crime. Prosecutors showed that the gang stole $16 million in gems in 13 armed robberies nationwide and manufactured and distributed methamphetamines.
In the first Newport Beach robbery, robbers fled with $6 million in gems from Carol Klein Fine Jewelry in October, 1989. In March, 1990, the robbers got $2 million in jewels from Moboco Fine Jewelry & Gems.
In both robberies, masked men raided the stores during business hours, brandishing assault weapons and terrifying employees and customers. They were in and out in less than two minutes. Marvin Shmagin, owner of Carol Klein, said Friday: "I'm really not over that episode yet. It's really uncomfortable to talk about." Shmagin said he was "relieved that they're off the streets. I would be more relieved if I got my merchandise back, but the world isn't fair."
Newport Beach Sgt. Andy Gonis said a break in the case came when the owner of another jewelry store notified police that his store was being cased. The tip led to Michael Rabb, who had been seen in several other local jewelry stores, Gonis said.
As police tracked Rabb's movements across the country, they connected his travels to other cities where million-dollar robberies had occurred.
When Rabb returned to Southern California in August, 1990, with two other men, Walter Zischke and John (Johnny the Hat) Evans, about 100 Newport Beach officers and FBI agents from Santa Ana monitored them as they cased jewelry stores in several Southern California cities, including Newport Beach.
They were arrested as they tried to leave California on Aug. 29, 1990.
"Our department expended a tremendous amount of resources and energy because of the problems we were experiencing," Gonis said. "We feel our involvement with the federal prosecutors was significant."
In January, 1994, the U.S. attorney in Tampa indicted Rabb, Zischke, Evans and 12 others on charges involving organized crime.
Nine of the defendants pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy. One of those nine, Robert (Bobby the Beak) Siegel, also admitted the attempted murder of a police officer.
The five men associated with the Newport Beach robberies--Rabb, Zischke, Evans, Siegel, and Joseph Pierce--were among those nine.
Three other defendants, Robert Johnson, Roy Blakeney and Curtis Anderson, were convicted last month by a federal jury in Tampa of conspiracy and organized crime charges. Two others, Robert Pullia and Eugene (Gino) DeRoy, were acquitted by the same jury.
Another man named in the indictment, Carmen Jannece, is a fugitive, Gonis said.
The 12 defendants were sentenced in the past two weeks. Each faced maximum sentences of 20 years in federal prison, to be served consecutively, for each criminal count. Siegel received a 135-year sentence.