5 charged by feds in big San Ramon jewelry store robbery

Five men have been charged in federal court with a smash-and-grab holdup at Heller Jewelers in the City Center Bishop Ranch shopping center in San Ramon

San Ramon Police Chief Denton Carlson said Tuesday that federal authorities helped catch those responsible for a big robbery back in March where more than $1 million worth of jewelry was stolen from a store.

"As you know, we're not a huge police department, so being able to rely on these other entities from the federal enforcement side of things has been a huge advantage for us," Carlson said.

On March 17, seven people burst into the jewelry store on Bollinger Canyon Road. Security footage shows two gunmen confronting security guards and workers at gunpoint as a family with children runs off outside.

The robbers used hammers to smash display cases before running out with $1.1 million in jewelry, including Rolex watches. 

Some took off in an orange Dodge Charger with stolen plates. Others jumped into a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Both had drivers waiting inside. 

Authorities used a GPS tracker in a stolen Rolex to find both cars abandoned in East Oakland. 

Those cars were also accompanied by a gray Dodge Charger registered to defendant Ryan Montgomery, authorities said.

Oakland police tracked a Toyota Sequoia allegedly used by defendant Paul Tonga across the San Mateo Bridge.

Authorities soon identified the other suspects, Sunia Faavesi, Kyle Vehikite and John Tupou, who investigators took photos of himself fanning money at a casino nine days after the holdup.

Masked men in the orange Dodge Charger had cased the jewelry store a week before the robbery and were briefly chased by San Ramon police.

"When we heard that the vehicle of the same description was back in the city and was possibly associated with Heller Jewelers, it gave us a little lead to go on," Carlson said.

That lead led to a federal case, on the grounds that Rolex watches are imported from Switzerland to New York and then cross state lines. 

"The feds needed a hook to get into this case," said KTVU legal analyst Michael Cardoza. "They clearly saw a reason to get into it. This usually is handled by the county."

Cardoza said he was concerned by revelations in a federal affidavit that one of the defendants was getting inside information on the progress of the investigation, secondhand, by a woman who works as a law enforcement clerk. The FBI is investigating. 

Henry Lee is a KTVU crime reporter. E-mail Henry at Henry.Lee@fox.com and follow him on Twitter @henrykleeKTVU and www.facebook.com/henrykleefan