Robbers steal $4M in coins from dealer

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

ORLANDO — A trio of masked, knife-wielding robbers sped off with $4 million worth of rare coins that they stole from a dealer, the second year in a row that thieves have targeted a coin show here, authorities said.

The take from Saturday's heist included a set of 1843 U.S. coins once owned by President John Tyler, according to an Orange County sheriff's report, and other copper, gold and silver coins. The dealer was robbed in front of a hotel, in town for the Florida United Numismatists' annual show, one of the largest in the country.

"It's a brazen happening," said Robert Brueggeman, head of The Professional Numismatists Guild and owner of Positive Protection, which provided security at the convention. "This kind of thing doesn't happen often at all, at knifepoint."

The coins were insured, according to the sheriff's report, but it was not clear for how much. The dealer had no immediate comment Wednesday.

A witness told police she saw the Mitsubishi pull into the hotel, blocking her from the entrance. Three men wearing dark hooded shirts and surgical masks got out, one holding the victim at knife point. He ordered the coin custodian, who worked for a Minnesota man that owned the valuables, to open the sport utility vehicle and slashed its back tire.

A suspect also threatened a bellman who came to the man's aid. The burglars sped off, followed by a black truck, and couldn't be spotted even after police set up a perimeter, according to the sheriff's report.

The license plate on the getaway car was registered to a person in Miami, and fingerprints were lifted off the SUV, but authorities hadn't reached any conclusions Wednesday. The burglars left nothing behind but a white cloth mask and a pair of sunglasses, according to the report.

"We're still following up on some things, looking at the video to see if they can pinpoint as to actually what happened," deputy Carlos Padilla said.

Padilla said investigators were told the coins were extremely rare, which could make them hard for a thief to unload.

"I guess it makes you wonder if the people that committed this crime even knew what they were getting. They may have, they may not have," Padilla said.

Padilla said it's unclear whether Saturday's heist is linked to last year's thefts, in which about $450,000 worth of coins was nabbed by thieves in at least five different cases.

Last year, most thieves broke into cars while dealers ate in restaurants. In one case, they followed a victim to Bradenton, where they stole coins by breaking the window of his car while he was inside.

"Normally they are destination-type thefts, or dealers get distracted," Brueggeman said. "The trunk has been popped or their car has been stolen. We've never had this kind of situation before."

Convention organizers stepped up security because of last year's thefts, adding more sheriff's deputies to patrol the convention and parking lot. Dealers were strongly encouraged to load and unload in the convention's secure, private location, so no member of the public could see which goods were in which car.

The four-day show attracted 1,750 dealers and some 10,000 attendees, convention coordinator Cindy Wibker said.

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