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Jewelry heist a lesson in not cheaping out on a video security system

Canadian Press THE CANADIAN PRESS

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – A New Brunswick jeweller says he's ``ecstatic'' that an Ontario couple suspected in a string of nationwide jewelry heists pleaded guilty to stealing a $10,000 diamond from his Saint John store.

Seventy-year-old Grigori Zaharov and 44-year-old Natalia Feldman of Vaughan both pleaded guilty to theft over $5,000 in Saint John provincial court Thursday.

The prosecutor's office says they are scheduled to appear for sentencing on Dec. 1.

Wayne Smith, who owns W. Smith and Co. Fine Jewellers, said Friday that he was happy that the heist saga appeared to be drawing to a quick conclusion.

``We'll soon I understand be getting our diamond back,'' said Smith. ``I just can't thank my employees enough for being on top of it ... justice is served.''

The pair presented themselves as a couple in an argument over how many carats to buy, and then in the blink of an eye switched a $10,000 diamond with a fake while the salesperson was distracted.

Saint John police have said the duo who pulled the Oct. 7 Saint John heist are ``suspects in numerous other jurisdictions for similar incidents'' from Vancouver to Atlantic Canada, and multiple police forces have been working on the file. In particular, police have accused the couple of swapping out two diamonds worth an estimated $20,000 at a store in Charlottetown.

Smith, who was not at the court hearing, said he believes the key to the case was his store's sophisticated camera system.

``It showed everything, and that's why I don't think there was any contest of them pleading guilty,'' he said.

Smith, who has more than 40 years of experience in the jewelry industry, said the lesson for those in the business is to ``spend some money on video equipment.''

``You have got to have proof for the police to react,'' said Smith.

The couple were arrested last month on a Canada-wide warrant in connection with the Oct. 7 theft outside a Vaughan condo tower and flown back to New Brunswick.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Jim Downs, founding partner and managing director of MKD International, says this jewelry heist highlights the importance of not cheaping out on a security system, especially if you are in the business of selling expensive, high-end products such as precious stones. 

“The bait and switch is old school ... you don’t see much of that anymore, and they likely would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for the camera that captured it,” he tells the online legal news service.

“This is a classic example of the importance of having good video surveillance equipment. The technology has changed so much. The quality these days is amazing. If this was a few years ago, the cameras that were available would never have been able to capture the amount of detail necessary. In this case, the camera clearly caught the swap.”

Downs, a retired Toronto police detective who headed the force’s organized crime tactical unit, notes the Christmas season coming up is a peak time for thefts to occur.

He says a security system can assist the authorities in the event of a theft or fraud and then provide great evidence once an arrest is made.

“It’s a great insurance policy,” he says.  

Downs says an increasing number of businesses are installing security systems to deter internal theft by employees, as well as external threats by shoplifters.

He says businesses may also want to consider an independent review by a security firm — such as MKD — before investing in a new system.

“You have to be careful about what you buy,” Downs says. "Go to a professional, independent agency that doesn't sell the hardware but can evaluate what equipment you need."

- With files from AdvocateDaily.com

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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