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Detroit — A crew of six alleged jewelry store thieves was indicted late Thursday in a smash-and-grab robbery, the latest in a string of heists that investigators said terrorized merchants and communities nationwide.

The indictment brings to 17 the number of people from Metro Detroit charged in robberies that used sledgehammers to smash open display cases and steal Rolex watches, diamonds and other jewels. Since 2012, thieves have robbed more than two dozen jewelry stores in Oakland County, including Tapper's Diamonds & Fine Jewelry in West Bloomfield Township.

During a news conference Friday, the U.S. Attorney's Office described crews of thieves from Metro Detroit that robbed six jewelry stores in other states, including New York, Maryland, North Carolina, Mississippi, Nebraska and Connecticut. The crews returned to Michigan with stolen Rolex watches and other jewelry, which is believed to have been sold on the black market.

"This is a growing epidemic nationally," said Paul Abbate, special agent in charge of the FBI in Detroit.

In the most recent indictment, six people were charged Thursday with conspiring to rob the Lux Bond & Green jewelry store in West Hartford, Connecticut, Oct. 8.

The six people coordinated the Connecticut robbery and used sledgehammers to steal jewelry, according to the indictment.

The six charged are:

Ernie Thomas Evans, 25, of Detroit.

Darrick Adams, 29, of Detroit.

Brandon Mayes, 20, of Detroit.

Bria Jackson, 22, of Shelby Township.

Shaquita Wyatt, 24, of Detroit.

Bria Stanford, 21, of Belleville.

"These defendants traveled around the country to commit their crimes in hopes of dividing and conquering witnesses and investigators, but with the collaboration of law enforcement agencies across the country, those schemes have been thwarted," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement Friday.

The six were indicted on a robbery conspiracy charge, a 20-year felony.

The case dates to August 2014 when FBI agents started investigating a series of jewelry store robberies across the Midwest and East Coast.

The alleged thieves have ties to Metro Detroit street gangs, including one known as the "Red Wings," according to FBI Special Agent Matthew Schuff.

In the Connecticut case, three men smashed display cases containing Rolex watches, while one man waited in a stolen Dodge Caravan, according to Schuff.

After smashing the display cases, the suspects fled with more than a dozen Rolex watches.

According to court records, a female suspect was spotted driving a Jeep Patriot with a Michigan license plate and meeting with suspects who were driving the stolen Caravan. The van was found soon after the robbery in Massachusetts.

The Patriot was registered to Stanford, who was indicted late Thursday.

A tipster told the FBI that several members of the alleged gang met in Detroit the day before the robbery and drove in separate cars to Connecticut.

The tipster said Stanford was part of the group and that the members stayed in a hotel in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Agents found a hotel registration card with Stanford's name on it, the FBI agent wrote in a court filing.

Before the robbery, one member of the group visited the jewelry store, assessing security, location of the Rolex watches and layout of the shop, according to court records.

Investigators checked surveillance photos from a nearby Walmart and spotted two suspects buying hats and pants similar to ones worn by the thieves during the robbery.

The FBI's tipster reviewed the photos and said the individuals were Evans and Wyatt, who also was indicted Thursday.

A second individual, who was involved in the robbery, implicated Mayes and Adams in the robbery, according to court records.

In a separate case, a second group of alleged thieves targeted Michigan jewelry stores, including Tapper's, and one in Grand Rapids.

The Tapper's robbery happened April 22, 2014. Three suspects, including one armed with a handgun, targeted the Rolex display case and fled with 130 Rolex watches worth approximately $1.4 million, according to court records.

A jewel industry consortium is offering a $45,000 reward for information leading to arrests of others responsible for unsolved robberies.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2028

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