Fla. Men Charged With Jewel Theft
PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ He knew enough to leave behind the fake stuff, but often didn’t wipe his feet.
Deft with a screwdriver and nimble enough to climb a palm tree, Alvaro Valdez is believed by police to be one of the most prolific jewel thieves in recent history.
Valdez, 46, and Barry Marshall, 52, were charged in state court Thursday with 71 counts of grand theft for allegedly stealing $25 million in jewels from the homes of Florida’s most wealthy.
At least half the gems were stolen from the Palm Beach mansion of Ford Motor Co. heiress Kathleen Ford in January 1997.
Investigators working on the thefts, which took place in five of Florida’s most affluent counties since 1994, have recovered about $10 million in jewels, including about $8.2 million belonging to Ms. Ford.
About 700 pieces worth $1 million have been found but not yet claimed.
``There were no cheap burglaries, that’s for sure,″ said Palm Beach Police Chief Frank A. Croft.
Marshall allegedly helped Valdez fence the stolen goods. His wife, Anita, was arrested and charged with one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Both Marshall and Valdez were arrested Thursday at the Palm Beach County jail, where they’re awaiting a Sept. 27 sentencing on federal charges stemming from the Ford burglary. They pleaded guilty to crossing state lines with the stolen goods.
While police say they continue to look for others who may have been involved in the thefts, they concentrated on Valdez as being the actual burglar. The case has led investigators to Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia in their quest to recover the jewels.
According to an affidavit, the burglar on several occasions took entire safes from master bedroom suites. Other times, he left behind costume jewelry and took only what was authentic.
Often, he forgot to clean his shoes, leaving behind the dirty tracks of Reebok Ex-O-Fit sneakers. In January, police found such shoes in Valdez’s Pompano Beach home, along with a jeweler’s scale, 121 pieces of jewelry and a book called ``Beyond Police Call,″ about scanner frequencies.
On one occasion, police say the burglar apparently entered a home through second-floor French doors after climbing a palm tree. The favored way to get in was to use a screwdriver to pry open a window or sliding doors.
The burglar’s methods also showed a measured calm.
On Aug. 27, 1997, while stealing more than $43,477 from a Hobe Sound home, the burglar drank a glass of water and fixed himself something to eat, the affidavit said. He owners were out of town.
``I think he made a point of casing the places in advance,″ Croft said. ``He was quiet. He was good. He knew what he was looking for.″