A total of 16 members of a major crime ring have been arrested for allegedly committing multiple violent armed robberies targeting Indian and other Asian jewellery stores across four east coast U.S. states in a span of one year.
Federal law enforcement arrested eight suspects on Wednesday, while the remaining eight were apprehended previously, according to a release by the U.S. attorney's office, District of Columbia.
According to the indictment, between January 7, 2022 and January 27, 2023, the defendants conspired in the District of Columbia to commit robberies in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida, targeting jewellery stores owned by Asian Americans.
The charge sheet listed nine "South Asian" jewellery shops that were targeted by the gang. Out of those, at least four could be identified as owned by people of Indian origin.
The gang disguised in dark clothing, masks and gloves, armed with a gun and used stolen vehicles to commit and flee from the robberies, the press release issued on Wednesday said.
“The defendants targeted small businesses along the East Coast, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of jewellery from hardworking families,” said assistant director in-charge David Sundberg.
“For the past 20 months, the FBI worked with our partners across state lines to connect the defendants to these heists. Today's indictment is a testament to the strength of our partnerships and the commitment we all share to eradicating violent crime,” Mr. Sundberg said.
FBI-Newark Special Agent in-charge James Dennehy said that the suspects took part in take-over-style armed robberies meant to terrify and overwhelm store owners and employees.
“We allege these suspects took part in take-over style armed robberies meant to terrify and overwhelm store owners and employees,” Mr. Dennehy said.
"Many of the victim businesses are family owned and operated and have lost large sums of inventory. The alleged violent and reckless actions of the subjects are astounding; they gave no thought to the people who could have been seriously injured or even killed," he said.
U.S. Attorney Graves said that with an increasing number of robbery schemes that cross state lines, “collaborative operations like this one are critical to holding accountable those who threaten the safety of our communities.” “Search warrants were also executed resulting in the seizure of multiple guns and approximately $3,00,000 from a safe in one of the residences,” the press release said.
The arrested have been slammed with 19 charges including conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce (known as Hobbs Act) robbery.
According to the law, the maximum sentence for Hobbs Act robbery is 20 years in prison while the use of a firearm to further the severity of crime carries a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years with a maximum possible sentence of life.
“A federal judge will determine the appropriate sentence after considering sentencing guidelines and other factors,” it said.