Federal agents have arrested a couple after linking them to several armed robberies of jewelry stores in South Florida, particularly in Hialeah, according to federal court records in Miami.
The couple’s tactics were complex.
A criminal complaint says a young woman visited the jewelry stores posing as a customer to memorize the place, count the number of employees and identify the location of surveillance cameras.
Then her husband, along with other accomplices, broke into businesses adjacent to the jewelry stores and from there pierced a hole through the drywall to enter the jewelry shop. If the robbers encountered jewelry store employees, they pointed guns at them and ordered to lie on the floor after they led the robbers to the safes, according to the complaint.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in collaboration with the Hialeah Police Department, dismantled the gang through an undercover operation that began Aug. 13, according to the complaint filed by ATF.
That day, according to the complaint, ATF agents and Hialeah police officers conducted a joint operation during which they monitored and recorded a clandestine meeting between an ATF informant and the couple, identified as Yamilé Díaz Bernal, 28, and her husband, José Pineda Castro, 25.
“This meeting was conducted to engage in the conversation of purchasing firearms and Pineda Castro’s past criminal activities,” according to the complaint. “During the recorded conversation, Pineda Castro stated that he had committed multiple armed robberies at jewelry stores. During the meeting, Pineda Castro gave detailed statements of stores that he had robbed, how he conducted the robberies, and mentioned some of the individuals that assisted him with the robberies.”
According to the complaint, the strategy was to break into the back of the business next door to the store. From there, they cut through the drywall to break into the jewelry shop.
“Pineda Castro further stated that they wore ski masks and were always armed,” according to the complaint. “Additionally, they would control the store by handcuffing the employees. Specifically, he stated that his crew would wait for the employees of the jewelry store to show up and then break through the drywall and place the employees on the ground and handcuff them after the safes were opened. Pineda Castro also stated that they would take the [surveillance video] from the security system of the jewelry stores with them.”
Pineda Castro mentioned specific robberies he had undertaken, listing addresses and other details, including actions that had failed and where there were witnesses who could recognize participants.
For example, Pineda Castro mentioned that in one of the robberies that failed had occurred Aug. 8 at the Real Deal Jewelry in Hialeah.
“Díaz Bernal, who is Pineda Castro’s wife, told [the informant] that she had visited Real Deal Jewelry on multiple occasions to see how many employees worked there and to see where the cameras were located,” according to the complaint.
The robbery failed because the group mistakenly cut through an electrical pipe, knocking out power to the entire shopping center and drawing attention.
“At that point, Pineda Castro and his crew left,” the complaint said.
The suspects were arrested Sept. 23.