Muhammad Saeed Shaikh pulled out of the parking lot of a Richardson jewelry store on June 9, 2016, and headed toward Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, where he stopped at the Shell gas station on Rental Car Drive about 2 p.m.
The 41-year-old Pakistani gold trader was being watched the whole time, authorities said — but not by police.
Trailing him were five suspects tied to a South American theft ring. They had been targeting traveling salesmen at jewelry stores in North Texas, watching and waiting for a chance to strike, according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.
In Shaikh, a father of two young girls, they found their opening. As the suspects swiped a case of jewelry from his car, he tried to stop them by reaching into their car, the indictment said.
But that backfired when they drove away with him and took him to an Irving apartment complex where they beat him, the U.S. attorney’s office said Tuesday.
Police found him unconscious later that afternoon and he was taken to a Dallas hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The suspects — Johnnattan Ramirez, 35; Pedro Louis Alvarez, 32; Robert Riveros, 25; Eslevy Vargas-Avila, 25; and Catherine Contreras-Beltran, 28 — were indicted in October and have been arrested over the last eight months.
Alvarez, of Honduras, was arrested in New York City in June 2016. The other four were arrested in Colombia, where they are citizens. It was unclear Tuesday whether Alvarez is a Colombian citizen.
“This extremely dangerous group of robbers is part of a larger organized South American theft group that has targeted members of the jewelry industry across this nation for a number of years,” John Parker, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement Tuesday.
Each suspect faces a litany of charges: conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, interference with commerce by robbery, and using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during and in furtherance of a crime of violence.
The suspects face up to life in federal prison if convicted.
Garland, Arlington cases
The charges also involve robberies of jewelry salesmen in Garland and Arlington last year.
In the Garland case, Ramirez, Alvarez and Riveros are accused of robbing a traveling diamond salesman of a case of jewelry, a digital camera, a California sales permit and invoices and order forms.
As with Shaikh, the suspects pegged the victim while conducting surveillance at a jewelry store, according to court documents.
In the Arlington case, which happened about a week before Shaikh’s death, all five suspects are accused of following a traveling diamond and jewelry salesman to a gas station on East Pioneer Parkway.
The salesman parked at a pump, and the suspects pulled up in a sedan and approached him, according to surveillance video released by police. Ramirez — who wore a skeleton mask, according to the indictment — held a handgun and chased the salesman to the door, dragging him back to the parking lot as the salesman tried to go inside.
Ramirez let the salesman go, but not before Vargas-Avila swiped a diamond scale and diamond gauge from his car, the indictment said.
A week later, the suspects went to the jewelry store in Richardson off U.S. 75, looking for a salesman to rob, the indictment said. They used three rental cars to conduct surveillance, the court documents said, and then spotted Shaikh.
Tight-knit theft rings
South American theft groups have been operating in the U.S. for more than 40 years, according to the FBI website.
The jewel thief rings are often tight-knit and made up of immigrants from the same hometown in countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
A similar ring was arrested in 2012 in the robbery and killing of Dallas jewelry salesman Arif Sayed, who was driving home from a jewelry convention in Houston, according to a KBTX-TV report. Sayed had stopped at a McDonald’s in Huntsville, off Interstate 45, when the thieves tried to steal merchandise from his car.
Sayed chased the suspects’ vehicle but was run over and died from his injuries two days later, the report said.