Trial in Jewelry Store Heists Begins


Eight co-defendants have already been convicted

A trial got underway this week in Westminster for three San Diego gang members, the final trio of defendants accused in an August 2009 crime spree involving armed hold-ups at jewelry stores in Tustin and Laguna Beach. Prosecutors say the crimes were committed to benefit their street gang.


Aida Arroyo, 29, Michael Burgin, 32, and Adam Weick, 30, are each charged with robbery, burglary and street terrorism as well as facing sentencing enhancements, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office.


Of the 11 original defendants, nine are members of a Hispanic street gang, according to prosecutors. Six have already entered guilty pleas and two others were convicted by juries of various charges related to the heists as well as other less violent crimes, the statement said. The investigation involved multiple agencies as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


The thieves’ vehicle, abandoned in an Aliso Viejo shopping center to evade pursuing Laguna police, ultimately yielded clues that led investigators to make arrests, some of them in Oceanside. When the owner of the abandoned vehicle returned to Laguna in September to reclaim it, three companions engaged in stealing mail, the statement says. An investigation of the mail thefts led to other arrests involving the sale of stolen jewelry at second-hand stores in San Diego, according to the district attorney’s account.


In the Aug. 4 robbery of Tustin Village Jewelers, the trio is accused of stealing over $160,000 in jewelry, taken from a safe opened by the owner who was threatened with a gun to his head.


Two of the bandits allegedly gained entry by rushing the store’s security gates when a third accomplice, inside under the pretense of selling a ring, asked to be let out to make a phone call.


Burgin and Weick, wearing caps and bandanas and wielding firearms, demanded the cases and safe be unlocked. Before fleeing the scene, their victim was immobilized with duct-tape and left in a bathroom.


About three weeks later, Burgin and two others entered Laguna’s Baca Jewelers on Aug. 25 near the 7 p.m. closing time. Obscuring their faces with hoods and baseball caps, the defendants are accused of stealing $1 million in watches and jewelry from a store employee held at gun-point.


Senior Deputy District Attorney Jim Mendelson of the gang unit is prosecuting the case.


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