SANTA ANA, California – Two key figures in a ring that conducted a string of violent smash-and-grab robberies at Southland jewelry stores that resulted in the theft of approximately $6 million worth of high-end watches each have been sentenced to over two decades in federal prison.
Jameson Laforest, 26, of Inglewood, who participated in the scheme for nearly two years, was sentenced on Friday to 22 years and 8 months in prison. The evidence at trial proved that Laforest was involved in three of the jewelry store robberies – at Prestige Jewelers in Manhattan Beach, Westime in West Hollywood, and Ben Bridge Jewelers in the Del Amo Fashion Center. Among participants in the robberies, Laforest’s “role was the most wide-ranging,” prosecutors argued in court, pointing out that he was on the two-member robbery team that carried out a smash-and-grab robbery at Prestige Jewelers and then took on a more senior role in the robberies that followed, including recruiting other participants, scouting locations, distributing supplies for the robbers to carry into the stores, and receiving the stolen merchandise after the robbery.
Robert Wesley Johnson, 29, of Inglewood, who prosecutors said in court papers “played a critical leadership and organizational role in the robbery conspiracy,” was sentenced on Friday to 22 years in prison. Johnson recruited robbers and scouted the jewelry stores, and he supplied the firearms, hammers, backpacks and other tools used in the robberies.
Laforest and Johnson, both members of the Inglewood Family Gangster Bloods, were sentenced by United States District Judge Cormac J. Carney, who presided over a five-week trial last year that led to the conviction of four men.
The sentencings of Johnson and Laforest follow last month’s sentencing of the robbery crew’s leader, Keith Marvel Walton, who was ordered to serve 55 years in federal prison. Johnson and Laforest were two of Walton’s top lieutenants.
The fourth defendant found guilty at last year’s trial, Evan Scott, who was a gunman in two of the robberies and pepper sprayed an employee in a third robbery, is expected to be sentenced by Judge Carney later this year.
During last year’s trial, a federal jury convicted the four defendants of planning and, in some cases, actively participating in the robberies, as well as brandishing a firearm during the heists.
Another 15 defendants, each of whom was involved in at least one of the smash-and-grab robberies, have pleaded guilty. One of those men who pleaded guilty, Stanley Ford, 49, of Lancaster, was sentenced in July to 25 years in prison for participating in five of the robberies.
The conspiracy was responsible for 14 robberies or attempted robberies between early August 2014 and April 2016. One heist at a store in the busy Westfield Century City mall netted more than $1.6 million in watches and involved one of the robbers firing a warning shot from a rifle after a security guard tried to secure the store doors. Members of the conspiracy stole watches and other jewelry that were cumulatively worth approximately $6 million.
“These robberies were dangerous and violent – the precise reason they were successful,” prosecutors wrote in court papers. “The stunning show of force and intimidation prevented employees and customers from resisting, as they feared for their lives if they attempted to do so.”
Members of the conspiracy selected jewelry stores based on their inventory of expensive watches, including those manufactured by Rolex, Audemar Piguet and TAG Heuer. Walton and other organizers, including Laforest and Johnson, recruited financially desperate young men to perform the robberies, often by promising large sums of money if they were successful. The organizers planned the details of the robberies, including selecting the display cases to be smashed and providing the firearms, tools, disguises and stolen cars that were used in the robberies.