Buried loot found near freeway

Times Staff Writer

A freeway overpass in the San Fernando Valley may seem an unlikely place to discover buried treasure, but that's exactly where authorities struck pay dirt this week when police received a handwritten map that led them to a cache of stolen valuables by the 118 Freeway.

Police say the hot goods -- mainly expensive jewelry -- may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The suspect, Roberto Caveda, is well known to West Valley police, who arrested him in 2006 for stealing about $15 million in fine art, jewelry and other items.

That haul included a $10-million Edgar Degas painting and $2 million in jewelry. Caveda was convicted of those thefts and preliminarily sentenced to eight to 10 years in state prison.

He is being held at the Twin Towers jail downtown as he awaits final sentencing, said his attorney Mark Bledstein.

Police got the tip -- and a detailed, hand-drawn map -- from Bledstein.

The lawyer said Caveda drew the map recently in his cell. It showed an area where he said he had buried a cache of jewelry near the 118 Freeway at White Oak Avenue.

Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's burglary division went to the scene Tuesday and unearthed a piece of plastic pipe buried in the ground.

Stuffed inside the pipe were socks filled with a "significant quantity" of jewelry, officials said.

Among the items were a canary diamond ring that could be worth up to $400,000, and gold necklaces.

Police still don't know where the loot came from, but they were scheduled Wednesday to conduct a detailed inventory of the stolen material.

They hope, eventually, to return some of the stolen goods to their rightful owners.

Bledstein said Wednesday he was surprised to learn of the buried material and said Caveda probably came forward with the information because he felt remorseful after hearing the victims testify during his trial last year.

His other motive in divulging his secret was to perhaps get some benefit during an upcoming sentencing hearing, at which he will seek a reduced sentence, Bledstein said.

"I was shocked," Bledstein said, when he heard about the buried items. "No one was aware that this stuff was buried there off the freeway."

Caveda's sentencing hearing was scheduled for today, but Bledstein said he was going to ask that it be postponed for a couple of weeks in light of the new development.


amanda.covarrubias @latimes.com

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