MIAMI - A former jewel thief who spent nine years in prison is now helping federal agents catch East Coast Gate Cutters, a group of burglars responsible for at least 57 jewelry store break-ins in several states, including Florida.
George Feder always believed what most career criminals believe.
"Everything you have belongs to me," said Feder.
He repeated ritual for more than 30 years.
"I would do everything to prepare for a day's work the same way... I would wash my left arm, then my right arm, my left leg, and, my right leg... I'm obsessive," said Feder. "I would wipe down my tools. I would pick a certain screwdriver. Everything had to be perfect... The rush of doing the job. There's no feeling on Earth like it... It was all preparation for walking out that front door totally prepared for any contingency that happened."
In the criminal underworld, he has a reputation as being a master jewel thief.
"The key to being a successful thief is getting in and out with your score quickly," said Feder.
That attitude helped him make millions of dollars during his career, but he was later arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Since Feder was released, he decided to help federal agents catch a gang that has ripped off at least 57 jewelry stores in shopping malls in a dozen states, including several in Florida. The East Coast Gate Cutters have been stealing from jewelry stores for more than seven years.
"These guys look like they're pros," said Feder. "They're great in what they do. I would compare it to a SWAT team, a Delta force."
Feder and Local 10 Crime Specialist John Turchin watched hours of surveillance video of the gang's break-ins. He noticed things only an experienced jewel thief might see.
"They are professional in their execution, but they're like clowns and idiots in what they're taking," said Feder.
The burglars break in just after the store closes or right before it opens. They usually steal men's gold -- 14-carat necklaces, bracelets, rings, and watches -- and Movado watches. But they ignore women's jewelry and the store's safe.
"It makes no sense. Right next to the Movados are precious stones, diamonds of different sizes, rubies, emeralds," said Feder. "They're leaving it here. Does that make any sense to anyone?"
Feder said fences in South Florida told him the stolen merchandise wasn't sold there.
"The fences that I know are telling me that this merchandise is being sold in New York or Atlanta," said Feder.
Feder added that the thieves made mistakes in some of the heists, including wearing clothing that was too identifiable or allowing their faces to be seen.
"As disciplined as they are, as bold as they are, as brazen as they are, I would bet my life and my reputation that they are carrying weapons," said Feder. "Lucky for the public, they've never been challenged."
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