ST CHARLES, Mo. — Four people believed to be involved in organized crime and accused of stealing $1 million in jewelry in Florida earlier this month were arrested in St. Charles this week.
According to a press release from the Walton County, Florida, Sheriff's Office, George Paun, Stela Sava, Terca Tarnovan and Vasile Lacatus, all Romanian nationals, were arrested Monday and charged with grand theft in connection with a 2022 theft.
The press release said three of the people arrested, Sava, Tarnovan and Lacatus, were also charged in connection with the April theft of more than $1 million of jewelry.
On April 11, two women and a man entered a jewelry store on Florida State Road 30A in Walton County and stole "numerous pieces of jewelry with a retail value of more than $1 million," according to the sheriff's office. They then left the scene in a black SUV.
The investigator that responded to the theft recognized the suspects from another incident where the same three people and a fourth person stole a Rolex using a sleight-of-hand technique, the release said.
The investigators found the black SUV abandoned.
Corey Dobridnia with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office said it was a lucky scenario.
"They ditched the vehicle after the second burglary pretty quickly and the owner of the business that they parked it at called us because they left it in a handicap spot. The owner said otherwise, he would’ve towed it and we may have never been able to track them down. Once we towed the vehicle, we were ale to find out that they got a ride from a woman who frequents that business and they had texted her 'thank you' after she dropped them off," she said.
Dobridnia said that's how they were able to track down the suspect's phone.
Dobridnia said they got surveillance footage and send photos to the St. Charles Police Department.
After getting a warrant to track the cell phone data, investigators narrowed them down in St. Charles.
Captain Raymond Floyd is an investigator with the St. Charles Police Department and said they became aware of the group on April 25th.
Floyd said they got a 'be on the lookout' alert from Walton County with pictures of the suspects.
"It tracked the phone in the general area. It showed it could’ve been anywhere from Highway 70 to 370 and possibly in Maryland Heights," Floyd added. "We printed a flyer and we gave to all of the jewelry stores in the area. We believe they would target those areas."
Floyd said investigators started checking all hotels and Googling nearby Airbnbs.
"With it being so much money being stolen, our thought is that they’d be staying at a hotel or Airbnb. A patrol officer located a mini van with Florida license plates and another with North Carolina tags in front of an Airbnb. We got a hold of Enterprise and it was determined that one of the suspects had rented that car out of Florida," he explained.
They also saw one of the suspects leave the home.
That's when detectives conducted a search warrant and Floyd said they found $30,000, jewelry, and other items.
Floyd also learned that a credit card was stolen from St. Charles and used in Frontenac.
It took the team about 12 hours and a crew of 35 people to get this case resolved.
"I do believe 100% they would’ve targeted multiple businesses in our community, being able to apprehend them so quickly was able to save our community from being targeted by this organization," he shared.
Floyd added that one of the suspects was traveling with their 10-year-old son and they've taken him into protective custody and working to reunite him with his mother.
The press release said an NYPD detective and a police officer in the United Kingdom assisted with the case and confirmed that the suspects were "part of a Romanian criminal network with more than 1,400 members in the United States."
The press release said there are active investigations into the suspects by the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other agencies.