A Gem of a Caper

Bags of jewels stolen. Two brothers in custody. The store owner implicated. Who done it?

The brothers alleged that Magana asked them to stage the robbery to help her shake off drug rivals looking to collect a debt. Jurors spat out the bait. The Smiths received prison terms of more than 18 years apiece.

They mounted a similar defense in the Lin trial, asserting that they sought to protect the flamboyant club owner known as Dr. Winkie after hearing of a plot to kill him. The jury, while acquitting the brothers on charges that could have carried life terms, convicted them on enough counts to add more than 24 years to their prison time.

Police and prosecutors believed the Smiths would reach retirement age behind bars. Yet within four years, appellate judges tossed the convictions, ruling that a police officer lied in the Magana case and a defense attorney sabotaged the Lin trial. A retrial in the Magana affair brought convictions on reduced charges; prosecutors allowed the Smiths to plead guilty in the Lin case and receive credit for time served. They returned to the outside in 1998.

Both married and started working as merchant seamen out of Oakland, enjoying the sedate comforts of regular life — for a few years. By late 2002, four months before thieves struck Lang's, each had lost his job. Troy had divorced. Dino, already the father of two sons with his estranged wife, was expecting a third with Debbie Warner.

Turner's silence about whether he knows who committed the Lang heist contrasts with his emphatic denials that he was involved. He insists that, until his name appeared in the paper in April 2003, he had no reason to think police considered him a suspect.

Even so, the news triggered his instinct to lay low. He stayed clear of his Oakland apartment for days at a time. He shaved his frizzy mane of graying black hair and grew a beard to hide his face. He mulled plans to flee the country.

Two months after the Lang theft, Turner claims he finally arranged to sell his remaining jewelry hoard. He agreed to meet a longtime confidant and a prospective buyer at a Sunset District hotel. Turner sat in a room, waiting for the men to show. In a small cloth sack on the bed were some 130 pieces of Lang jewelry, worth $650,000.

Hearing a noise at the door, he walked over just as it burst open. A half-dozen gun muzzles greeted him. Officers barked at him to put his hands up; on one wrist, he wore a Patek Philippe watch missing from Lang's.

Gardner and Leydon, the investigators on the case, decline to disclose who alerted them to the hotel rendezvous. Turner surmises his onetime confidant turned police informant. He speculates that officers arrested the man in an unrelated case, and in exchange for leniency, he snitched.

Turner refused to talk after authorities busted him. Last summer, he pleaded guilty to robbery and false imprisonment, receiving a sentence of almost 13 years. He remains in county jail awaiting word on his transfer to state prison.

Turner, 45, suffers from hepatitis C and Crohn's disease, a chronic intestinal ailment for which he has undergone two surgeries since his arrest, court records confirm. Sitting in a wheelchair, he lifts his orange sweatshirt to reveal deep, train-track scars on his stomach. On his wrist, instead of a silver Swiss watch, he wears a clear plastic band inlaid with his faded mug shot. In the picture, he looks like a man lost.

Despite his plea, Turner admits only that he received property stolen from Lang's. He may have touched the poster board and newspaper that police found at the crime scene, he concedes. But he suggests that if he handled the items, he did so before the thieves entered 1 Tillman, the space next to the jewelry store.

Gardner offers two other theories: Turner forgot he wasn't wearing gloves when he bought the poster board and paper, or he neglected to remove the items after the robbery. "Sometimes," he says, "these guys aren't as bright as they like to think."

Today, Lang Fine Estate Jewelers shares only a passing resemblance with the store thieves plundered three years ago. A renovation completed six weeks after the robbery replaced the showroom's staid green with lush reds and golds. The colors lend the narrow, rectangular space the feel of an outsized jewelry box.

Lang's collection of more than 1,000 pieces also changed after the heist — by necessity, since the crooks escaped with it. Shop owner Mark Zimmelman decided to shutter his nearby sister store and shift its stock to Lang's, which reopened in May 2003 with its new look and inventory.

Gardner and Leydon contend that's what he wanted to do all along.

The cops accuse Zimmelman of plotting the heist with Dino Smith to offset business losses and collect a $4.5 million insurance claim. Gardner and Leydon trace the roots of the alleged conspiracy to the late '80s, when Zimmelman purchased stolen jewelry from Dino.

Back then, Zimmelman bought estate jewelry that he resold to stores on consignment. In 1989, Dino, using the alias Greg West, and a man named John visited Zimmelman's Union Square office. They brought along a bag of gold brooches, diamond necklaces, and assorted costume jewelry.

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