NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York’s top jewelers said on Wednesday they have uncovered nearly $20,000 worth of stolen jewelry from a store they owned and have arrested a man who they believe stole the items.
The jewelers, who did not want to be identified, said they were stunned when they learned of the thefts and were also forced to close their business in February.
The theft was part of a larger fraud scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen money from the jewelers and others, according to law enforcement officials.
The thieves, who stole more than $10 million, used a shell company called the Covington Group Inc. to disguise the jewelry as jewelry from other companies, the jeweler’s owners said.
The stolen jewelry was stored in warehouses and other locations that were used by thieves to hide money and other valuables from law enforcement.
The thefts are the largest in the history of the Covets group, which has a vast global network and a long history of misappropriating money.
The men were identified by authorities on Wednesday as former New York Police Department Commissioner Anthony Bologna and his son, Michael Bolognan.
The pair, who were not named, pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan federal court.
The Covingtons said they are cooperating with authorities and are cooperating fully with investigators.
The ringleader of the ring was identified by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who called the crime “an unprecedented attack on the New York economy.”
“This is the most brazen and vicious scheme to defraud our city’s jewelers in decades,” Schneiderman said.
“The perpetrators of this theft are not only brazen, they are brazen and violent.
They are thieves who will do anything to steal their customers’ property.”
He added that the ringleaders were using a shell corporation called the U.S. Covingston Group Inc., which the Attorney General described as a shell for the thieves to mask their identities.
The company, which had no registered address, was incorporated in Delaware in 2005 and has been used by the thieves for at least two decades, according the jewelery’s owners.
It was not immediately clear how the ringleader and his accomplices managed to use shell companies to hide the stolen money, which was stored and moved around the globe, the company said in a statement.
The investigation began in July 2015 when New York state’s attorney general and other officials contacted the jewel companies.
They identified the ring leaders and a ring of other ring members and launched an investigation into the thefts.
Police say the ring leader, identified as Benjamin Covingan, 43, of Queens, New York, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with five counts of stealing stolen property.
He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
Covingan was released from jail on $15,000 bail.
A man who said he was the ring’s ringleader, Robert DeMarco, 52, of Long Island, was also arrested on Wednesday and charged.
He is expected to appear in court later this month.
DeMarco, of the Bronx, New Jersey, was not charged with a crime but faces charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit theft of property.
A woman who said she was the alleged ringleader was also charged on Wednesday.
The woman, who declined to be named, said she took jewelry from the Coves and other jewelers from the company and moved it around the world.
She said she hid the stolen items in other people’s houses.
The owners of the jeweleries in the city of New York say they are not blaming each other but are cooperating in the investigation.
In the meantime, the companies have suspended operations and will hold a news conference on Wednesday morning to release a statement on what they are doing to fight the theft.
“We are very, very saddened by this theft and we are very saddened to hear that our business is being robbed,” said Tiffany Lefebvre, the president of the New Yorkers Covingson Group, which is based in Covingtown, New Hampshire.
“Our customers are our partners, our associates, our friends and our neighbors.
And our commitment to them and our commitment is unbreakable.”
She said the company is still cooperating with the investigation and will continue to cooperate with authorities.
“This crime is the biggest theft of stolen goods in our industry’s history.
The theft is also a crime against our entire community,” Lefemvre said.