Los Angeles — One of the drivers of a Brink’s tractor-trailer was asleep inside the big rig parked near a remote Southern California rest area earlier this summer when thieves broke a lock andaccording to a lawsuit filed by the security company.
While the other driver was getting food inside the rest area early on July 11 and spent nearly 30 minutes away from the vehicle, the thieves stole 22 bags of jewelry and fled.
The heist netted a haul described by some as worth less than $10 million and others as roughly $100 million, and its value is now the subject of two lawsuits filed this month. If the latter figure is accurate, it would be one of the biggest jewelery heists in modern history.
But Brink’s, in a federal lawsuit filed Aug. 4 in New York, said the pickup manifests signed by the jewelers reported $8.7 million worth of merchandise in the 22 stolen bags.
The security company’s lawsuit alleges that the jewelers underdeclared the value of the items being transported, and the company is only liable 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 north of downtown Los Angeles, when the items were shipped overnight from a jewelry show in the San Francisco Bay Area down to the Los Angeles region for another arrangement.
Brink’s is trying to limit potential payouts to the jewelers. The jewelers say their cargo was worth $100 million and the security company is trying to deny compensation to customers for a theft “the drivers are practically inviting 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 devastated,” the plaintiffs said in a statement Tuesday. “We are lost and don’t know what’s next in our lives. Whatever plans we all have for the future, for our businesses and our families have 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 investigating the case did not respond to a request for comment.
The Los Angeles Times first reported the lawsuits Tuesday.
Brink’s lawsuit says the driver left his partner in the big rig’s sleeping berth while he went to get food — a move the company says was “in accordance with Department of Transportation regulations.”
He was gone for 27 minutes and returned to find the lock broken, although the sleepy driver said he hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual, according to the lawsuit. It was not immediately clear whether the driver should have been away for so long, and whether the sleeping berth is soundproof.
In their lawsuit, the “mom and pop” jewelers are seeking $100 million in damages and $100 million in punitive damages from Brink’s. The jewelers allege that a Brink’s employee told them to understate their items on the pickup manifests “to save money, because shipping costs would be too expensive if they declared the full value of their items.”
“We are appalled by Brink’s lack of support for their longtime customers who believed they were in safe hands at Brink’s,” Jerry Kroll, an attorney for the jewelers, said in a statement. “After relying on Brink’s for their guarded transportation services, our customers have lost virtually everything in this theft, including their source of income.”