LOS ANGELES (AP) — One of the drivers of a Brink’s tractor-trailer was asleep inside the big rig, parked near a remote Southern California rest stop earlier this summer, when thieves broke a lock and stole millions of dollars worth of jewelry and gemstones, according to a lawsuit filed by the security company.
While the second driver was getting food inside the rest stop early July 11 — spending nearly 30 minutes away from the vehicle — the thieves stole 22 bags of jewelry from the vehicle and fled.
The heist nabbed a haul that’s been described by some as worth less than $10 million and others as roughly $100 million and the value is now the subject of two lawsuits filed this month. If the latter figure is accurate, it would be one of the largest jewelry thefts in modern history.
But Brink’s, in a federal lawsuit filed Aug. 4 in New York, stated that the pickup manifests signed by the jewelers reported a total of $8.7 million worth of merchandise in the 22 stolen bags.
The security company’s lawsuit alleges that the jewelers under-declared the value of the items that were being transported and the company is only responsible for the declared value.
The theft occurred near the “Flying J” rest stop and gas station in the unincorporated community of Lebec, about 75 miles (120.7 kilometers) north of downtown Los Angeles, as the items were being sent overnight from a jewelry show in the San Francisco Bay Area down to the Los Angeles region for another event.
Brink’s is seeking to limit potential payouts to the jewelers, who say their cargo was worth $100 million and that the security company is trying to deny compensation to its customers for a theft “its drivers practically invited to happen.”
Fourteen jewelers and jewelry companies alleged breach of contract and negligence in a lawsuit filed Monday against Brink’s in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
“Everyone in our group has been emotionally and financially destroyed,” the plaintiffs said in a statement on Tuesday. “We are lost and do not know what comes next in our lives. Whatever plans we all have for the future for our businesses and our families has evaporated in an instant.”
A spokesperson for Brink’s declined to comment to The Associated Press on Tuesday, citing the pending litigation. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant who is investigating the case did not respond to a request for comment.
The Los Angeles Times first reported the lawsuits on Tuesday.
Brink’s lawsuit states that the driver left his partner in the big rig’s sleeping berth while he went to get food — a move the company says was “per Department of Transportation regulations.”
He was gone for 27 minutes and returned to find the lock broken, though the sleeping driver said he hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual, according to the lawsuit. It was not immediately clear whether the driver was supposed to be gone for so long, and if the sleeping berth is sound-proof.
In their lawsuit, the “mom and pop” jewelers are seeking $100 million in damages and $100 million in restitution from Brink’s. The jewelers allege that a Brink’s employee told them to under-value their merchandise on the pickup manifests “in order to save money, because the cost of shipping would be too expensive if they declared the full value of their goods.”
“We are astounded by Brink’s lack of support for their longtime customers who thought they were in safe hands with Brink’s,” Jerry Kroll, an attorney for the jewelers, said in a statement. “After relying on Brink’s for their guarded transportation services, our clients have lost virtually everything in this theft, including their source of income.”