By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Albert Samaha
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
Someone or something inside Lang Fine Estate Jewelers tripped an alarm at 11:17 p.m. Police officers responded and peered into the darkened showroom. It looked empty, undisturbed. They left.
Richard Frey and Erin Beeghly arrived for work the next morning around 9:30, unaware of the previous night's disturbance. Before the store opened in half an hour, they would need to set out dozens of jewelry-laden display trays locked overnight in three safes. They chatted for a minute, then Frey climbed upstairs to switch a security videotape. Beeghly walked to the rear of the shop to change her clothes.
Scraps of wood and sheetrock littered the back office, debris from the store's ongoing renovation. Beeghly picked her way across the small space, passing the safes along one wall, and pushed on the bathroom door.
As it opened, two men dressed in black lunged toward her.
The young woman's scream startled Frey. He headed back downstairs, but stopped halfway. A man had appeared on the landing, aiming a silver handgun at him.
His voice even, the man ordered Frey to the bottom of the steps. He jammed the gun in Frey's side as they stepped into the office, separated from the showroom by a curtain.
No longer visible to passersby who might glance in the storefront, the man tugged a nylon mask over his shaved head. He told Frey to open the 6-foot-tall safes that held Lang's entire inventory. Frey saw a second masked man pointing a gun at Beeghly as she faced a wall.
Frey's thin hands trembled as he twisted the combination wheels. The sound of the front-door buzzer interrupted him twice. The thieves directed him to answer it each time and return, their guns persuading him to obey.
Frey first let in the shop's bookkeeper; one intruder herded her into the office. Store manager Suzanne Martinez buzzed the door moments later. His face wan, Frey choked out a whispered warning to her at the door. "We're being robbed."
Martinez entered the office behind Frey, who had struggled to recall the combination of the third safe. After opening it, she turned toward the wall as commanded.
The robbers grabbed the display trays and began dumping more than 1,000 pieces of jewelry into garbage bags. Eighteen-carat diamond rings and sapphire teardrop earrings. A $25,000 platinum Edwardian bracelet studded with emeralds. A 1920s filigree diamond bracelet inlaid with Thai rubies. Cartier brooches and Piaget watches. Some items dated to the mid-19th century; most were one of a kind, customized by previous owners.
The precious gems and metals created a soft crunching noise as they tumbled into the plastic bags. "You're taking away our livelihood," Martinez said.
"Think of the poor children in Iraq," one thief shot back.
Tall and muscular, the two men moved with athletic grace, their manner calm and efficient. As they worked, Frey noticed that a crude hole had been cut in the office's rear wall about five feet off the floor. He saw a third man standing on the opposite side, in a vacant restaurant attached to Lang's. The thieves inside the shop handed the bags to the man until a woman's voice crackled over their walkie-talkies.
The duo bound their captives with plastic flex cuffs and duct tape before stacking them face down on top of one another. Placed on the bottom, Frey, a lanky man in his early 60s, wheezed under the weight of his co-workers. They worried he would suffer a heart attack.
Long seconds passed. Martinez rolled off the pile only when she felt certain the gunmen had left. Short and lithe, she hopped over to a phone and punched the speed-dial button to Lang's sister store. "We've been hit," she told the woman who answered.
Martinez wriggled out of her restraints and untied her co-workers as police pulled up. Officers soon realized the dizzying scale of the break-in. The crooks had escaped with $4.5 million in loot, the richest jewelry heist in San Francisco history.
The Lang job occurred on April 7, 2003. So began the three-year search for Dino and Troy Smith.
At the time, the Smith brothers already owned a reputation somewhere between notorious and loathed within the Hall of Justice. Their infamy derived from repeated run-ins with police over two decades. During the 1980s, investigators suspected them of committing possibly hundreds of burglaries and armed robberies, hitting clothing and jewelry stores, rug and furniture shops, restaurants, bars, and homes.
Police came to know the Smiths for their catlike climbing skills, alarm-system expertise, and cool demeanor. Posing as customers, the brothers visited stores to scout vulnerable entry points, authorities alleged, then returned at night with work tools to pry open a skylight or window, or to bash a hole in a wall. They were accused of forcing employees to unlock safes at gunpoint.
Whatever the source of their wealth, the brothers cultivated a playboy lifestyle in their 20s. They mingled with the glitterati at bygone hotspots Studio West and DV8. Both over 6 feet tall, they wore tailored Italian suits to flaunt chiseled physiques, eager to indulge their appetites for luxury cars and women. Dino converted a Hunters Point warehouse into a rambling bachelor's pad. Younger brother Troy sated his gambling jones in Las Vegas and Monte Carlo.
The Smiths plunged from orbit in 1990, after their arrest on dozens of robbery, burglary, and false imprisonment charges related to alleged misdeeds a year earlier. Juries convicted them in a series of tabloid-tinged cases over the next six years, as cops and prosecutors packed courtroom galleries to watch them fall. Though sentenced to decades in prison, they walked in 1998, freed by successful appeals.
The brothers appeared to keep a low profile through early 2003, living within a few miles of each other in Oakland after each of their marriages crumbled. Yet the poise of the Lang jewelry thieves and the method of their break-in suggested a strong possibility to police: The Smiths were back in the heist game.
Dino and Troy vanished days after the Lang robbery, leading police on a cat-and-mouse chase that dragged on until last month. Investigators tracked them from the Bay Area to New York, with rumored sightings as far away as Argentina, Costa Rica, and Italy. Meanwhile, in a peculiar sideshow closer to home, authorities depicted the jewelry store owner as the brains behind the theft without ever charging him.
Lang Fine Estate Jewelers sits blocks from Union Square, near the swanky retail nexus of Sutter and Grant streets. The rear of the shop shares a common wall with a martini bar at 1 Tillman Place, a short, dead-end walkway off Grant.
In April 2003, 1 Tillman stood empty, the site of a defunct restaurant. An investigator discovered a piece of copper wire protruding from the inside of its front door that could be pulled from the outside to unlock a deadbolt.
Once inside the vacant space, the thieves exploited a weak spot in the common wall. They hacked through a veneer of crosscut plywood and sheetrock to expose a wood door between the two buildings. Sealed within the wall perhaps decades earlier, the door still held a glass panel in its upper half. After removing the glass, they cut a hole the size of a bike wheel through a second thin layer of sheetrock and plywood.
The opening revealed Lang's back office, the safes looming in the dark.
At least one intruder slipped into the store the night before the robbery to hang a small cardboard box over the office's wall-mounted motion detector. The movement triggered the shop's alarm on Sunday, April 6. But by the time police arrived, the man or men had crawled out, concealing the hole with white poster board, or hid in the bathroom, out of view from the storefront.
The alarm reset at 11:25 p.m. and the officers departed. With the motion detector disabled, the intruders could enter any time they desired.
The rear door of 1 Tillman faces an alley and the back side of the Saks Fifth Avenue building on Post Street. At 8:51 a.m. on April 7, Saks' security cameras captured video of three men walking toward the door. One carried a newspaper and what looked like a cup of coffee. A fourth man stepped out of 1 Tillman to let them in.
At 9:48 a.m., the four men emerged from the same door, their pace unhurried. Three of them wore black clothing, the fourth sported a white-and-blue ski coat. Bulging black garbage bags dangled from their hands.
The haziness of the images obscured their faces. But initial police suspicions that the robbery resembled the Smiths' past handiwork congealed when Frey, the store clerk, picked out Dino's picture in a photo lineup. Frey identified him as the gun-wielding intruder who had stood at the foot of the store's stairs.
Investigators also found fingerprints inside 1 Tillman on the poster board and a copy of the Chronicle sports page, dated April 7, left behind by the thieves. Forensic tests matched the prints to Troy Smith and George Turner, a longtime friend of the brothers and a twice-convicted felon. (As for the fourth man glimpsed on the security video, police have named no suspects.)
Robbery Inspectors Dan Gardner and Dan Leydon, assigned to handle the Lang case, organized stakeouts of the Smiths' Oakland apartments. The tactic paid off less than three weeks later, when an officer observed a man hauling clothes from Troy's apartment to a black Lexus. A search of the car's glove box turned up swag from Lang's: A $4,950 pair of diamond and sapphire earrings, the price tag still attached.
The man, Je Kim, described himself as a friend of Debbie Warner, a real estate agent who police identified as Dino's girlfriend. Court records reveal that, according to inspector Leydon, Kim claimed Warner asked him to move Troy's furniture to her apartment in Oakland. He further alleged that, as payment, Warner offered the earrings and told him to keep a handful of Troy's Armani suits, Leydon reported.
Police arrested Warner the following week in her home, where Leydon seized driver's licenses belonging to the Smith brothers and credit cards in Troy's name. She faced a preliminary hearing in May 2003 on charges of possessing stolen goods and acting as an accessory after a crime. Petite and pale, with short dark hair, she arrived in Superior Court wearing a black blouse over her swollen belly: She was pregnant with Dino's child.
Prosecutors argued that Warner's alleged payment of stolen earrings and Troy's suits to Kim showed she had contact with the brothers after the heist and aided them in eluding police. Warner's attorney countered that Kim, with a half-dozen prior convictions on burglary, drug, and assault charges, may have taken part in the robbery.
Kim boosted Warner's cause by refusing to testify, a decision that influenced the judge to toss the case. Not long after the hearing, Warner gave birth to Dino's youngest son, who will turn 3 this summer. In a brief interview with SF Weekly, Warner, 33, declined to discuss her relationship with Dino, preferring instead to rant.
"The whole thing, I'm disgusted. The whole system is full of outright lies. I'm a law-abiding citizen."
The judge's ruling aside, Gardner and Leydon still believe in Warner's guilt, though she has no criminal record. "We felt we had enough on her," Leydon says. "But you move on to the next thing."
George Turner worked the Bay Area's black market for a quarter-century. He befriended a large network of suppliers and buyers, trafficking stolen TVs, laptops, cell phones, furs, suits, coats, jeans. He handled enough hot jewelry to learn the four Cs of gemology cut, clarity, color, and carat weight and the tricks of moving high-end loot.
A day after the Lang heist, Turner says a friend brought him 250 to 300 pieces of jewelry to sell. Each bore a Lang price tag. Turner claims he asked no questions about how the man obtained the stash, and provides no clues about his identity.
In three days, Turner sold more than half the jewelry to Bay Area customers, he says, collecting about $720,000 for his supplier. He claims he received a $15,000 cut and the leftover necklaces, bracelets, and rings. He figured he could peddle the gems for as much as $50,000.
Later that April, Turner recalls, as he drove to Sacramento on another "business trip," his cell phone chirped. "Police are looking for you, man," a friend said. "You're in the paper." So were the Smiths, named by investigators as fellow suspects in the Lang robbery.
The three childhood friends had run into trouble again.
Turner grew up near the Smiths in the Western Addition. Starting in his late teens, court records show, Dino served time for stealing a car, carrying a concealed gun, and tying up a theft victim. Troy chose a straighter path, at least through his early 20s. He played football in high school and community college, and in the early '80s, he joined a pro team in Italy for a season. After his career fizzled, he drifted back to California, banding together with his older brother and Turner to "live off the land."
Turner invokes the phrase in recounting a litany of alleged thefts that police suspected the trio committed, but failed to solve. He boasts of cleaning out clothing, shoe, and jewelry shops in low-rent districts and Union Square alike, gaining entry by sneaking into basements or rappelling onto rooftops. He recalls breaking into an art gallery to knock a hole in the wall it shared with a Gucci store. "The whole neighborhood was dressed real nice after that one," he says, smiling.
Turner's rationale for such iniquities bespeaks a criminal's skewed logic. "Everybody got insurance," he says. "You get what you want. The insurance company pays the store. It's all good." So good, he contends, that some struggling business owners, hoping to collect on indemnity claims, requested the trio's "help" with break-ins.
Turner's kinship with the Smiths exposed him to their sibling rivalry, as they stole money, cars, and women from one another. He describes Dino as mellower than Troy, who earned the nickname Raw-Raw for his trip-wire temper. "Dino wanted to give money to the homeless," Turner says. "[Troy] wanted to run over them."
A conviction for robbing a pawnshop interrupted Turner's criminal career in 1987. Released two years later, he soon cut business ties with the Smiths, he says, while remaining friends with them. "They had gotten all these other people around them. Three's a good number. Six ain't."
In early 1990, the brothers were arrested on charges that they intended to kidnap and rob Lawrence Lin, owner of the sprawling nightclub DV8, one of their regular hangouts. An ex-lover of Dino's had tipped off police, who staked out Lin's Russian Hill home in the early hours of March 19.
Officers watched as the Smiths crept up to the house around 1 a.m., only to run off seconds later and drive away. (Department legend has it that a cop inside the house flushed a toilet, spooking the brothers.) Police pulled their car over and inside found bulletproof vests, three handguns, and more than 100 rounds of ammunition.
The bust would yield charges that the siblings committed dozens of robberies and burglaries in 1989 while directing a citywide theft ring with a handful of associates. In their zeal to nail the Smiths, prosecutors reduced charges on no fewer than four of the brothers' alleged accomplices to secure their testimony.
Dino and Troy stood trial in 1991 for the robbery of $500,000 in jewelry from the widow of a Nicaraguan drug lord. Two thieves had tied up Victoria Magana, her two children, and her sister inside Magana's Richmond District home during the break-in.
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.
Police later learned the baubles came from the home of Victoria Magana, the drug kingpin's widow whom authorities accused the Smiths of robbing. But Zimmelman insists the two men told him the jewelry belonged to John's mother.
Failing to reach a deal that day, Dino returned with Troy. The pair struck Zimmelman as "club guys," dressed in designer silk shirts and dropping the names of pro football players they supposedly knew. Zimmelman bought the jewelry for $30,000 and eventually sold it.
A year later, with the Smiths charged in the Magana case, a customer claiming to know Greg West offered to sell Zimmelman "very warm" jewelry, court records indicate. Zimmelman agreed to buy; the customer turned out to be an undercover cop.
Zimmelman pleaded guilty to attempting to receive stolen property and testified against the Smiths in the Magana trial. As years passed, he says, he forgot about them. When police mentioned their names in connection with the Lang heist, "I was like, 'Oy. I can't believe it.'"
Gardner and Leydon think otherwise. The two cops allege that Zimmelman, familiar with the brothers' criminal exploits and seeking an infusion of insurance money, conceived the robbery scheme with Dino. Their investigation unearthed what they consider circumstantial evidence that implicates Zimmelman:
On January 30, 2003, less than three months before the heist, Dino's black Hummer received two parking tickets a block from Lang's. Gardner and Leydon allege he and Zimmelman may have met to discuss the heist.
Zimmelman hired movers one week before the theft to slide Lang's three safes to a side wall of the back office. For years, the massive safes had covered the rear wall the common wall with the hidden door between the shop and the then-vacant space at 1 Tillman. "Unless the safes are moved," Leydon says, "the thieves can't come through."
A security company dispatcher phoned Zimmelman after the store's alarm went off the night before the heist. The shop owner said to call back if police suspected trouble. "You got a store with millions of dollars of jewelry," Gardner says. "Wouldn't you at least want to check it?"
At the time of the break-in, the videotape that recorded Lang's security feed shut off every Sunday night, in effect blacking out the shop's surveillance until Monday morning. The thieves picked a Sunday night to enter Lang's and disable the motion detector.
The robbers ordered store clerk Richard Frey and Suzanne Martinez, the shop's manager, to open the safes without asking who among the four employees knew the combinations. Singling out Frey and Martinez suggests someone told the crooks beforehand who could unlock the safes, Gardner and Leydon say.
Martinez pleaded with the thieves to leave behind some $100,000 worth of customer jewelry under repair. In an oddly altruistic gesture, they obliged. Gardner and Leydon allege they did so because Zimmelman wanted to avoid the wrath of customers if insurance failed to cover their loss. (Authorities alleged that Martinez may have helped in the scheme, but she did not face charges.)
The two cops exude physical intensity in different ways. Gardner leans his broad, 6-foot-3 frame toward a person when talking, his brown eyes opaque and unblinking. The more compact Leydon, now a lieutenant, fidgets with the energy of a downed power line.
They grilled Zimmelman for hours the day of the break-in. He resisted calling an attorney then or in subsequent interviews to prove he had nothing to hide, he says. He refutes their conspiracy charges with a mix of contempt and sarcasm. "They thought they were Sherlock Holmes," he says. "I think they're clowns."
Zimmelman, 49, bought Lang's from its original owner in 1990 and runs another shop in Beverly Hills. He concedes that, when he decided to close his second shop in San Francisco after the robbery, business had dipped since the dot-com collapse. But he contends his stores were solvent, and while authorities accuse him of planning the heist to commit insurance fraud, he points out that his insurer conducted its own investigation.
"They're more thorough than the cops," he says.
Possessed of an open face and a casual manner, Zimmelman disparages the alleged evidence against him as coincidences. He asserts that the parking tickets Dino received, rather than hint at a meeting between the two men, show Smith may have cased the store.
Moving the safes, he says, occurred in advance of installing cabinets along the office's rear wall, part of the store's renovation at the time.
Thieves with inside knowledge would have breached the common wall at a point opposite the back office's bathroom, he theorizes; that way, they could stay outside the motion detector's range and avoid tripping the alarm.
Zimmelman also defends his decision to stay home after the security company called. A rat darting across the floor or a truck rumbling past a store can touch off an alarm, he says. If he had received a second call, he insists, he would have checked on the shop, but he trusted the police to spot trouble.
Weeks after the heist, Zimmelman consented to a polygraph, hoping to persuade investigators of his innocence. A state law enforcement official administered the test at the Hall of Justice. Zimmelman passed.
Three years removed from the heist, he speculates the Smiths may have targeted his store as payback for his testifying against them years ago. Or, more likely, he says, the gleaming cascade of necklaces, bracelets, and brooches in Lang's display window tempted them.
Gardner and Leydon disagree. They say Dino Smith spilled a different story.
The investigators thought Dino might hide out in New York. His estranged wife lives there with his two oldest sons, and Smith's fugitive status aside, Gardner and Leydon knew he fancied himself a devoted father. In June 2004, a desire to see his third and youngest child would end Dino's freedom.
Debbie Warner flew from Oakland to New York that month. A year earlier, a judge had dismissed charges alleging that Dino's girlfriend helped the Smiths elude capture. Authorities continued to track her, surveillance that paid off after she and the couple's infant son touched down on the East Coast.
New York police tailed Warner until Gardner and Leydon arrived the next day. The investigators followed her to a train station in Queens, and a short time later, they saw Dino walk toward her. He sported sunglasses and a goatee, a backpack slung over his shoulder. He looked gaunt from 14 months on the lam.
A coterie of New York officers backed Gardner and Leydon as they moved in and cuffed him. Smith squirmed. "You got the wrong guy," he said.
"You're Dino Smith," Gardner replied. "We're San Francisco police." His body fell limp.
Police escorted him to a Queens precinct station. Denying he took part in the Lang heist, he admitted to "several" meetings with Zimmelman to plan the job, Gardner and Leydon claim. Smith also disclosed that Zimmelman provided details about the hidden door, the cops contend, and promised him that the brothers could earn up to $2 million apiece. The shop owner, Smith said, felt he owed the duo for testifying against them in the Magana case, according to Gardner and Leydon.
Smith fought extradition to California and refused to divulge where he lived in New York. Authorities had yet to solve the riddle when, in August 2004, Gardner received a call from Brian Boucher.
A writer and art critic, Boucher had rented the bedroom of his tiny New York apartment to a man named John Williams for 10 months. Boucher explained that he last saw Williams in June 2004, and, frustrated by his tenant skipping two months' rent, he decided to search Williams' room.
Boucher found a laptop, and asked a tech-savvy friend to crack the password. A sign-in name popped up on the screen: Dino Smith. The computer contained a diary, and a few of its entries made Boucher suspicious about his elusive roommate. He decided to type Smith's name into Google. Moments later, after clicking on the Web site of America's Most Wanted, he sat staring at Dino's mug shot.
Gardner traveled to New York to seize the contents of Smith's room. He found stolen photo ID cards and a diary book in which Smith imagined casting his life as a movie. Denzel Washington would play him, and Laurence Fishburne would portray his brother. Angela Bassett would star as his wife and Halle Berry as his girlfriend. (Dino's wife, Angela Taylor, in her only comments to SF Weekly, says she owns the film rights to his story.)
Authorities argue that other diary entries, dotted with references to "Mark" and "MZ," corroborate their theory that Zimmelman may have conspired with Dino. One, dated March 5, 2003 a month before the Lang robbery asks simply, "Meet with MZ again?"
The computer journal contained similar musings. An entry dated April 27, 2003, three weeks after the break-in, reads, in part, "I should have called the cops as soon as he walked up to my car. Why did I even give MZ the fucking time of day. I know, the money right? ... How the hell do I prove I was not there? When I truly was not there? ..."
During Smith's trial last June, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike invoked the Lang owner's name in arguing their case. Prosecutor Jerry Coleman dubbed the robbery "a Mark Zimmelman inside job."
Defense lawyer Jonathan Rutledge wondered why prosecutors had failed to charge Zimmelman if they believed he conspired with Smith. He further posited that if Zimmelman were involved, then the alleged crime constituted insurance fraud, not robbery.
The statute of limitations to charge Zimmelman on theft-related charges expired earlier this month. Prosecutors are still weighing insurance fraud charges. For his part, Zimmelman shrugs off Smith's journal entries, maintaining that Dino may have created the diaries after reading news articles about the robbery as a ploy to implicate someone else.
"This guy was on the run for a year," Zimmelman says. "He had time to try to figure out how to get out of this."
In mounting his defense, Rutledge, who declined to comment to SF Weekly, attacked Gardner and Leydon. The attorney pointed out that they failed to record or take notes of Smith's alleged admissions in New York, writing up a chronology of the interview two days later. Rutledge accused the cops of concocting Smith's statements, contending that a man who spent 14 months on the run would have the restraint to keep quiet.
Jurors were unmoved: They convicted Dino last June. Smith, 47, remains at San Quentin Prison, awaiting transfer to another state facility; he could not be reached for comment. Following the jury's verdict, a judge sentenced him to 23 years. Some three dozen police officers filled the courtroom's seats, eager to see a Smith brother sent away. Again.
America's Most Wanted profiled the Smiths in 2003, the first of three shows broadcast about the brothers over a two-year span. An irritated Troy Smith responded. In an open letter to the show's host, John Walsh, he claimed he would surrender if guaranteed a fair trial.
"(But) I know how they will turn on the courtroom theatrics along with the prosecutorial misconduct," he wrote. "I'll get stuck with the dim-witted lawyer from My Cousin Vinny. I'd rather take my chance with hypertension as a fugitive."
Alleged sightings of Troy poured in each time the program aired its Smiths' profile. Italy, where he played football. Costa Rica, where he sometimes vacationed. Las Vegas, where he liked to gamble.
Police still had few solid leads when, without warning, Smith came to them. And then, without warning, he came in from the cold. Last month, perhaps weary of nursing his fugitive hypertension, Troy, 45, walked into the county jail behind the Hall of Justice. His attorney, Tito Torres, escorted him. One observer said he had put on about 45 pounds and appeared worn.
Smith refused to talk with SF Weekly, and has made no statements about his decision to turn himself in. Gardner and Leydon, who had heard Troy spent time near Dino in New York, can only guess at his motive. "Life on the run isn't this great thing," Leydon says. "You always gotta be wondering what's gonna happen."
Troy and Dino's father, Nolan, who lives in San Francisco, would say only, "He all along wanted to do this. He didn't plan on staying out there."
Torres, who has represented Smith in previous cases, declined to speculate about a legal strategy in the Lang case. But he, too, insists he had no idea where Troy hid out. "I didn't know and I didn't want to know. He was hot."
The same sense of mystery enshrouds the jewelry stolen from Lang's three years ago this month. Apart from the pieces recovered with George Turner and a batch of items worth $145,000 discovered earlier this year in the city, the stolen gems have stayed underground. The city's richest jewelry heist, it would seem, remains among its richest enigmas.
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