In March 2019, the retired police detective Mike Crowley met me in the lobby of a hotel near the Miami Dolphins’ stadium. Crowley, a 71-year-old Vietnam vet, was wearing shorts, a white undershirt, and a camouflage baseball hat that said MARINE in block caps. Over the course of three hours, he sipped a single rum and Coke.
Four years earlier, Crowley said, he’d noticed a pattern in a string of jewelry-store robberies happening all over Florida: The same means of entry had been used every time. As he spoke, I eyed a large stack of paperwork teetering on the table in front of us, including thick folders labeled DRILL TEAM in black marker.
At first, Crowley had had multiple suspects for these crimes. He walked me through a laundry list of itinerant safecrackers who had passed through Florida in recent years, pulling off heists in various cities throughout the state. Florida, seen through Crowley’s eyes, is a migratory stopover for the most elite burglars and safe teams. If you rob banks because they’re where the money is, you rob Florida because it’s where the jewels are. The retirees are covered in them, the newlyweds fawn over them in palatial beachside shops, and the tourists haul them home to remember the romance of a special trip.
The police reports Crowley showed me made the burglars sound like ghosts. At one crime scene, detectives found a single footprint left behind in the drywall dust. At another, investigators were reduced to watching hours of traffic-cam footage, trying to decipher the robbers’ movements based solely on headlights reflecting off the back of nearby buildings. In a frustrating near-miss, a baker came to work at 4 a.m.—while a burglary was under way—and parked his car close to where the perpetrators had stationed their own vehicles. Unfortunately, he saw and heard nothing. In some cases, the target store’s air conditioning would be cranked up, which police later surmised was the thieves’ way of avoiding leaving DNA behind in their sweat. One store was so cold when the owner showed up the next morning that the windows had fogged up like a winter holiday display.
Across their six-year run, what appeared to be the same crew committed a virtually identical crime over and over again, Crowley explained. They targeted jewelry stores in strip malls, usually on the edges of small towns whose local police had not yet experienced this kind of sophisticated burglary. The crew struck in the middle of the night, sidestepping stores’ advanced alarm systems with an electronic jamming device. The crew also picked targets that shared a wall with a business that had no real reason to install an alarm of its own. It might be a travel agency, where customers rarely, if ever, paid cash, or a nail salon; an empty storefront was also ideal. They would break into the neighboring business, and then cut entirely new doors through the walls and step through to the jewelry stores. The crew earned Crowley’s nickname—the “Drill Team”—by cracking supposedly impenetrable safes in record time, often drilling just one precise hole. They seemed to have an intimate knowledge of every make and model on the market.
A savvy burglar knows that opportunities for crime are often designed directly into the built environment; architecture itself can be a source of vulnerability. A business protected by even the most advanced alarm system can still be betrayed by something as simple as a repetitive floor plan shared with neighboring storefronts, Crowley explained. Casing one place means casing the other. This Florida group also found that the bathrooms of adjacent stores are often placed back-to-back to take advantage of shared plumbing and that, for reasons of privacy, each bathroom would be free of cameras and other alarms. The use of cheap, insecure building materials to separate one shop from its neighbor—just some two-by-fours and drywall—meant that getting from one business into the next was trivial. All the crew really needed was a handsaw in order to safely emerge in the bathroom of a neighboring jewelry store within minutes.
The group’s expertise was so out of proportion to that of the police departments in the small towns and suburbs where they operated that local law enforcement seemed helpless in the face of their planning and coordination. Crowley showed me a list of known break-ins, including dates, addresses, and local detectives assigned to each case. The group, he pointed out, was hitting businesses in different police jurisdictions nearly every time, guessing—correctly—that law-enforcement organizations around Florida were not in regular contact. News of a break-in in one town was by no means guaranteed to reach detectives just a few miles away.
Although he was a decade into retirement at the time, Crowley, who calls himself a “victim-oriented investigator,” sensed an opportunity to do some good. He wanted to see the scenes in person, so he began driving hundreds of miles to meet with storeowners as soon as he learned of a new heist. No one had hired him to do this, he emphasized to me. It was all on his own dime.
For active-duty detectives at these crime scenes, however, Crowley was an unwelcome presence. His most consistent experience with police departments throughout the state, Crowley told me, was having his phone calls unreturned, his emails unanswered. “Except for two detectives in two cities, they didn’t want anything to do with an old guy and they didn’t want to talk to me,” Crowley complained. One of the police departments I reached out to actually warned me against speaking to Crowley at all, claiming that, because he was no longer on active duty, he had been feeding me inaccurate information. “I felt like Rodney Dangerfield,” Crowley joked.
He eventually settled on a suspect, thanks in part to a friendly tip. Bobby Talsky, 58, is the president of International Safe & Vault Services, an organization based in Ocala, Florida, not far from where Crowley himself lives. Talsky’s interest in this crew had been piqued by those ultra-precise drill holes, placed in exactly the right spot to pop specific high-security safes. Talsky has an encyclopedic knowledge of the American safe industry, and told me he could list everyone in the United States capable of that kind of drilling.
What troubled Talsky was that these heists appeared to be an inside job, not by jewelry-store employees but by someone in the safe industry. Based on the precision of the drill holes, both Talsky and Crowley also began to suspect that they had seen this thief before. More than a decade earlier, a Florida safe technician had been indicted for a series of interstate break-ins, and he had been out of prison since 2003.
Could the same notorious safecracker be active again?
From 1996 to 1999, a series of nearly identical burglaries took place all over the American Southeast. The crimes were lucrative, with a total haul of $10 million to $15 million, as estimated by law-enforcement officials who described the case. Jewelry stores—and a handful of grocery stores, heavy with customer cash—from Alabama to Georgia and throughout the Carolinas were being hit in the middle of the night. What united them all was the precise drill-work of the crew’s safe expert; the fact that the burglars were cutting through the walls of neighboring businesses, such as nail salons or empty storefronts, to enter; and the ease with which the perpetrators seemed to bypass advanced security systems.
There was something peculiar, however, about the way these burglars seemed to be traveling to and getting away from the crime scenes, a missing detail that might help investigators explain how the crew was able to cover such a huge territory.
William Anthony Granims—Tony—lives near Tampa, Florida, where he is a licensed pilot and former private investigator. In the 1980s, Granims ran his own pawnshop in the remote Florida town of LaBelle and had connections throughout the secondhand-goods industry, which he has maintained in the years since. Granims learned to fly as a teenager, soaring over the Everglades with friends and daredeviling under city bridges before returning home for dinner. He was also an early “phone phreak,” using DIY home electronics to manipulate and explore the national telephone system, and he began experimenting with hacking, including jamming electronic systems, from the first days of personal computing.
All of these affiliations were superb false fronts for Granims, who later became one of the most skilled criminals in Florida history. If Granims was ever pulled over with a car full of suspicious electronic gear, he could simply show his PI license and claim to be working a case. If he had a trash bag full of jewelry in the trunk, he could just say it was from an estate sale at a buddy’s pawnshop.
If burglary was an Olympic event, the team flying from jewelry store to jewelry store aboard Granims’s airplane would surely win the gold. This original squad’s star players also included Mark Collins, a retired Palm Beach sheriff’s deputy who spent 16 years on the force before going rogue. Collins had firsthand knowledge of police investigative procedures, his own private-investigator license, and a long list of contacts inside Florida law enforcement in case things went belly-up. (At his initial bail hearing, Collins would receive character-witness statements from several Florida law-enforcement officials, testifying to his moral rectitude. He was still found guilty at the subsequent trial.)
Rounding out the crew’s core group of experts was Michael Ornelas. Ornelas had been working as a professional safe technician and locksmith for years when these heists began in the mid-’90s. By all accounts, he was one of the best in Florida, if not the United States; Ornelas could drill, pick, and manipulate his way into any box on the market. Today, he has become something of a cautionary tale, a man whose name I first heard spoken in professional safecracking circles with a tone of quiet embarrassment. Ornelas had crossed the industry’s ultimate red line: He’d used his skills to rip off the very people who had turned to him for help.
I reached out to Granims, who was surprisingly willing to chat. It quickly became clear, however, that trying to understand the early years of Granims’s criminal career would mean parsing an endless series of allegations laid atop rumors that dissolved into myths. I stumbled on a series of comments left under seemingly random usernames on two blogs, alleging that Granims had been a CIA-trained pilot flying covert missions during the Iran-Contra affair. When I asked him about this, Granims was noncommittal, instead making elliptical references to piloting jobs he claimed to have taken at the time for the DEA, some involving harrowing nighttime landings on remote roads in the Everglades, with nothing but the headlights of a waiting pickup truck to guide him. As with everything Granims told me, these tales were difficult to fact-check.
Granims says he was 18 when he first met Ornelas. When the two young men learned of each other’s nascent interests—Ornelas studying locks, Granims mastering electronics—they became instant friends, collaborating on and off in the years to come. In the 1990s, Granims and Ornelas even ventured into the movie business together, helping to produce a low-budget horror film titled Creep. (Two of the most notorious jewel thieves of the past three decades thus have pages on IMDb.) Was that a way for Granims and Ornelas to launder heist money? I asked. Granims laughed; Ornelas just loved movies, he said, and the two of them were having fun.
According to federal indictments, the crew’s airplane heists began in 1996, but Granims admitted to me that he had pulled off smaller, unrelated heists well back into the ’80s. Indeed, he was not shy about discussing the appeal of breaking and entering. “When you stand in front of a building and you know you can have that thing inside it in an hour and a half, it’s very tempting,” Granims told me. “There’s nothing—and I mean nothing—that’s not breakable. It’s just a matter of: What’s it worth to break? It’s like with any other business. Is the work worth the payment?”
I asked Granims to describe the crew’s flights for me. He and the other men, he said, would take off from an airport in South Florida. They would fly during both night and day, often chasing clear weather; no one wanted to wait out a southern thunderstorm in a plane filled with stolen jewelry. Granims also avoided filing a flight path in advance with the FAA by relying on visual flight rules, a more flexible means of air travel under which pilots are permitted to improvise routes without contacting air traffic control. Granims could choose their destinations on a whim, often landing at small, quiet airports on the edges of major cities. There are thousands of jewelry stores in the United States; pick an airfield at random, and you will be close to one.
Once on the ground, the crew would roll out like business travelers, unload their bags—bulging with electronic equipment and burglary tools—and get to work. The key was not to look suspicious. “If you start getting all sneaky at airports, you get a lot more attention than if you just fly in, get a rental car, and have them come over and fuel you up,” Granims said. “You’re just another airplane.”
At first, FBI Special Agent Jim Page, who was based in North Carolina at the time, thought the series of heists plaguing his state was the work of the YACS, a legendary group of cat burglars from Yugoslavia, Albania, Croatia, and Serbia known for their elaborate, high-profile break-ins. A YACS heist typically involved holes cut through ceilings and an advanced familiarity with electronic alarms—but why would this group, known for spectacular crimes in places such as New York City, suddenly show up in the American Southeast?
Page, who is now retired from the FBI and runs a security consulting firm in Colorado, was brand-new at the bureau when a file of unsolved burglaries landed on his desk at the end of 1999. When I asked Page if the group behind these late-’90s heists was as good as it seemed to be, he offered no compliments. Instead, he talked me through a list of mistakes the men had made that, for him, put a question mark next to the idea that they were some kind of criminal supergroup. At one point, the men returned a rental car without filling up the gas tank, which meant that, though they paid cash for the rental, the credit card on file—in one of their names—was automatically charged. Another time, one of the men rented a movie on a hotel’s internal video service—and paid for it by credit card, leaving evidence that he had been in town on the night of a break-in. During yet another burglary, Mark Collins allegedly called his girlfriend in the middle of the night, using a payphone outside a store that the other men were inside robbing. Page said he stumbled upon the call only when he pulled records for that particular payphone, just in case.
As the resulting federal indictment explains, an even more trivial error was what led investigators to catch these men, and it came from a weak link outside the group. The crew had been flying back and forth across the Southeast for years, Granims’s Cessna filled with planeload after planeload of cash and stolen jewelry. Back in Florida, they would offload it all onto a local fence named Robert Marshall Serrano. Anything traceable—jewelry marked with a serial number or with other personal information, such as an engraved bracelet—would be either melted down or discarded altogether. When an unusual pocket watch popped up in the loot one day, Serrano asked if it was safe to display, which the crew understood to mean display inside a case at Serrano’s Florida pawnshop. So they agreed.
Instead, Serrano put the watch on eBay.
The owner of the North Carolina store from which the watch had been stolen found it online within days, Page told me. He had not even been searching for that particular pocket watch—he had assumed it was gone forever—but rather had been looking for a suitable replacement. The eBay listing led both the jewelry merchant and Page straight to Serrano and his store’s financial records, including copies of personal checks he had made out to Granims and Ornelas for the stolen merchandise. The men were arrested within months. (Page told me he later bought the watch from the original owner as a souvenir of his first big case.)
Unsurprisingly, this still annoys Granims. “We never once got caught at any location, ever,” Granims told me. “I mean, eBay is what foiled it.” Nevertheless, Granims and Ornelas offered significant cooperation with the ensuing investigation and were rewarded with short prison sentences; Ornelas even agreed to wear a wire for the FBI to get Serrano to incriminate himself on tape. In the end, Collins and Serrano spent more time behind bars than Granims and Ornelas did. Both ringleaders were free by the end of 2003, their prison stays a mere blink of an eye—and expected to put their crimes behind them.
In 2015, Mike Crowley was becoming convinced that Michael Ornelas was behind the new, multiyear spree of elaborate jewelry-store heists consuming Florida. The drill-work was clearly professional, the crew’s method of entry identical to those heists in the ’90s. It had to be at least some of the same guys, Crowley thought, slicing their way through Florida strip malls, drilling open safes in a single go.
Unlike the local police departments who had shunned Crowley, leaving his calls unanswered and his temper simmering, the response to Crowley’s investigative work at the federal level was appreciative. Two FBI special agents I interviewed about the case both lauded Crowley’s tenacity, crediting him with bringing these burglaries to their attention in the first place. “He’s a bulldog,” Page said. Crowley had seen Page’s name on the crew’s federal indictment, filed back in 2002, and promptly reached out. Page told me he immediately agreed with Crowley’s assessment and put him in touch with a veteran special agent named John MacVeigh down in the bureau’s Florida office, who would soon take over the case: “Once he started telling me about this stuff, I said, ‘Mike, this sounds like my guys.’”
Now retired, MacVeigh lives in a suburb north of Miami and seems to have taken well to the life of an FBI retiree. He was inside his house, drinking water from a Star Wars glass, when I arrived there. When I commented on the size of his lawn, which surrounded us like a prairie, MacVeigh explained that mowing it takes exactly the length of Hell Freezes Over, a 1994 live album by The Eagles: 72 minutes and 36 seconds.
The initial problem with Crowley, MacVeigh told me, was not the quality of his research but the fact that these were not federal crimes. The crew was only hitting stores inside Florida, MacVeigh said. The feds couldn’t do anything unless the burglars crossed state lines, or began to sell stolen jewelry from one state in another. Despite agreeing with Crowley’s interpretation of the case, MacVeigh could only wait.
Then, by coincidence, Ornelas’s name crossed MacVeigh’s desk for another reason. Ornelas had stopped paying restitution for his role in the earlier airplane crimes in the ’90s, which meant that the State Attorney’s Office in North Carolina wanted to subpoena his financial records. MacVeigh got the call. At the time, MacVeigh was going through a divorce, and the very morning he planned to serve Ornelas with the subpoena, a meeting with his divorce attorney came up at the last minute. He couldn’t miss it. MacVeigh told me he called the local sheriff’s deputies, suggesting they reschedule. The deputies instead offered to keep an eye on Ornelas until he could stop by.
Hours passed. His meeting finally over, MacVeigh called for an update. Ornelas was on the move, he learned, heading toward a Miami suburb called Davie. MacVeigh jumped in his car and “hauled ass all the way down,” he told me. He found the deputies staked out near a strip mall where Ornelas had disappeared into a pawnshop. Knowing Ornelas had no reason to recognize him, MacVeigh simply parked his car and walked inside.
Not only was Ornelas there, MacVeigh said, he was standing over a display case looking down at two rings in a plastic bag with the storeowner, Matthew Petruccelli. Instead of serving the subpoena, MacVeigh decided to improvise, saying he was there to buy his wife something for Christmas. “We just had a burglary at a Kay Jewelers the week before,” MacVeigh told me, “and one of the rings I recognized. It was this chocolate diamond. I had seen the damn ad on TV!” MacVeigh laughed as he recalled the scene. “What are the odds of this? I drive an hour and 20 minutes, and I walk in at the exact same time he’s got his jewelry on the counter.”
The plan was now to see where Ornelas went next and to let Petruccelli know that his customer was pawning stolen merchandise. The problem was that both men left the store at the same time, heading in different directions. While the sheriff’s deputies tailed Ornelas, MacVeigh was left tracking Petruccelli on his own. Improbably, MacVeigh said, Petruccelli was “driving a truck pulling a trailer with palm trees on it—I mean, giant palm trees.” This made him easy enough to follow, but MacVeigh had no authority to pull the guy over. He hopped on the radio with the other deputies. “I’m like, ‘Where are you guys? Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up.’”
The deputies finally pulled over Petruccelli’s truck—palm trees and all—and MacVeigh explained the situation. He left one of his business cards with Petruccelli and urged him to be in touch. His cooperation, MacVeigh told Petruccelli, could be key to breaking this case.
MacVeigh was back at work the next day when a phone call came through on his office line. It was not Matthew Petruccelli.
It was Tony Granims, and he wanted to talk.
The emotional shock of being burglarized is rarely discussed. The charismatic figure of the burglar gets all the attention, the stories of high-risk capers and near-escapes. If you went back, item by item, through every store that got hit, you would find a story behind each piece, and hundreds—thousands—of personal lives upended by the break-ins. Jody and Jeff Saulnier owned a store called J&J Jewelers in Ocala, Florida, when it was hit by the crew in July 2013. Jody Saulnier explained to me that one of the pieces, left at the store overnight for a simple repair, had been given to a female customer by that customer’s son, who passed away not long thereafter. The ring was thus one of the last sentimental reminders that this customer had of a beloved family member—and it was never to be seen again.
Saulnier told me the police investigation and insurance-claim process seemed designed to be humiliating. She and her husband were interrogated by their insurance company as possible suspects. Because the burglars also stole all the Saulniers’ paperwork, including receipts identifying which pieces had been locked inside the safe, the Saulniers had to put an ad in the local newspaper telling everyone that their store had been robbed. This, she said, made it feel more like a personal failure on their behalf, rather than a hit by a skilled group of veteran jewel thieves. State law enforcement had never bothered to give businesses like hers some sort of warning that these guys were out there. The only saving grace, Saulnier said, was the local community: friends and customers who understood their pain and soon returned to the store, helping the Saulniers get back on their feet. Still, the Saulniers eventually moved out of Florida altogether.
It was clear from the moment I arrived at Amore Jewelers, in Bonita Springs, that the store’s March 2015 burglary was not something Bill Skidmore, the store’s owner, wanted to discuss. Nevertheless, he walked me back through the shop, pointing out the nail salon next door through whose drywall the crew had entered. Skidmore explained that the combination to Amore’s safe—which had been sold to them as unpickable—had never been written down. Instead, only two people on Earth had it memorized: Skidmore and his business partner, who had been close friends for decades.
When detectives arrived at the scene, however, they failed to notice the crew’s signature drill hole on one side of the safe. This led to the terrible conclusion that Amore’s safe must have been robbed by one of the business partners. For the rest of that day, the implication hung in the air that either Skidmore or his partner might be wrongly accused of committing the crime. Police finally found the drill hole at the end of the day, an unexpected source of relief: Someone else had done this. “When you get to the point where the cops believe it’s an inside job,” MacVeigh later said to me, “you’re excellent at what you’re doing.”
Multiple storeowners had to pay several hundred thousand dollars of their own money to cover losses that should have been insured; one storeowner discovered, to his horror, that he had missed his last insurance payment and thus had no protection at all for the night of the heist. “How did it affect me?” Murray Margolis asked aloud as we spoke. His store had been robbed by the crew in November 2016. “Just imagine if you lost your 401(k) and that was that. I’m an old man now. Did it mess up my life? It messed up my life totally.”
Every storeowner I spoke with emphasized one thing: The pain of a crime like this is by no means only financial. After the heists, some owners found themselves suspicious of any customer who asked to use the bathroom, of anyone who came to the shop without purchasing anything, even of someone asking basic questions about the store’s inventory. A friendly conversation with a future customer risked becoming a stilted interaction marred by paranoia.
The final insult was perhaps a narrative one: a lack of closure or explanation. When I mentioned to these storeowners that a man had actually confessed to his role in these and other jewelry-store burglaries throughout Florida, it was the first time many had heard of it. Either local police departments did not know that suspects had been arrested in another jurisdiction, or no one had thought to inform the victims.
A few hours after Petruccelli was pulled over and brought up to speed, MacVeigh said, he went to a place called the Flashback Diner, a 24-hour slice of Americana complete with a menu of celebrity sandwiches—the Marlon Brando, the Anthony Quinn, the Janis Joplin. There, Petruccelli had arranged to meet with Ornelas and Granims—and, with that, everything became clear. Petruccelli was not an innocent pawnshop owner swept up in crimes he knew nothing about, MacVeigh told me: He was an active member of this new crew, their trusted fence.
At the restaurant, the three men likely went back over the events of the past few hours, trying to figure out what had brought the FBI to Petruccelli’s pawnshop and, more importantly, what else the bureau might know. At some point, Granims must have come to a realization: It was over; any new burglaries were now far too risky to contemplate. But was it too late for Granims, specifically? Was it still possible to save himself?
In some of the odd, small-world loops that tie these cases together across three decades, MacVeigh had actually known and worked with Mark Collins, back when Collins was still with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office. Even stranger, MacVeigh knew Tony Granims. In the early 1990s, MacVeigh told me, they had seen each other out on busts, Granims acting as a civilian ride-along with Collins. Collins, I’d later learn, would also routinely use Granims as a “hip-pocket informant,” someone Collins would call up at will to act as a buyer in staged drug deals. This arrangement appears to have given Granims a sense that committing crimes came with no real costs, a kind of play-acting outside of the law. MacVeigh, for his part, described Granims to me as “a throwback from the ’80s,” a “wannabe” with a knack for inserting himself into cases that otherwise did not involve him. Granims, he implied, would do what it took to seem important.
In January 2018, Granims walked into the FBI office in Palm Beach, sat down, and confessed to a known list of 24 burglaries around Florida, dating back at least to 2011—including J&J Jewelers, Amore Jewelers, and Murray Margolis’s shop. But then he continued, listing approximately 25 more. These were still-open cases that neither MacVeigh nor Crowley had yet associated with the crew—and a sign of just how skilled they really were. Granims, who alleged that he and Ornelas began working together again in 2011, and that Petruccelli joined the crew as early as 2012, offered his assistance in setting the other two men up for arrest. (Collins, from the earlier series of airplane heists in the 1990s, was apparently not involved this time around; Serrano died in 2010.) Frustratingly, the FBI still had no jurisdiction over these crimes; they had all taken place inside Florida, making them a local-police matter only. Until, that is, Granims mentioned something that would take the crew across state lines—and into the FBI’s legal domain.
Throughout this multiyear crime spree, Ornelas had been working as a legitimate safe and lock technician, with clients all over south Florida and a reputation as one of the best technicians on the market. It was thus not entirely surprising that a man in Chicago reached out, seeking Ornelas’s expertise in choosing and installing a high-security safe. The man ran a medical-marijuana dispensary and was specifically looking for a safe large enough to hold $700,000 in $20 bills—did Ornelas know anything that might work?
In early 2018, according to the FBI’s criminal complaint, Ornelas presented Granims and Petruccelli with the perfect setup: Why should he go all the way to Chicago alone just to help someone install a safe, when the whole crew could come along and steal $700,000?
While MacVeigh and Granims settled on a way to make a bust happen, Granims agreed to take MacVeigh and his FBI colleagues out to a site in Miami where the crew had been discarding unsellable jewelry in a canal. Granims had earlier described pieces of unwanted jewelry to me as “junk,” and I now flinched, realizing that he had likely been describing sentimental pieces like the ring a mother had been given by her now-deceased son. These had most likely been dumped, unsold, into Florida canals.
Hearing Granims describe the dump site, MacVeigh remembered something. A man had recently reported pulling over to go the bathroom near a retention pond outside Miami. When he looked down, the man saw a plastic bag full of jewelry sitting at the water’s edge. To his credit, the man called the police. A high-school ring inside the bag was soon traced back to a March 2017 burglary in New Smyrna Beach—a jewelry store in a strip mall had had a brand-new door sliced through the drywall from a neighboring business, its disabled alarm system thrown onto the floor, and its safe drilled.
MacVeigh requested an FBI dive team. Their goal was to find the crew’s abandoned jewelry, as well as some incriminating GPS devices that Granims had thrown into the canal. The problem, MacVeigh told me, was that the site was only half a mile from Ornelas’s house, which meant somehow disguising an entire FBI dive team. While MacVeigh watched local roads for signs of Ornelas, the divers began simulating how far a man like Granims could throw something into the water. They realized right away that their search could take all day.
Then, MacVeigh said, his eyebrows raised in comedic disbelief, “They find the first GPS unit almost instantaneously. It’s like 15 feet out in the canal. Then the guys start bringing up just handfuls of popped diamonds. They’re pulling jewelry out left and right.” On later inspection, these were not diamonds, but cubic zirconia. “That stuff was junk,” MacVeigh added.
With Granims’s cooperation now confirmed, he and MacVeigh devised an endgame. Wearing a wire to record the crew’s conversations, and after agreeing to let a GPS tracker be placed on their rental vehicle, Granims traveled with the group to Chicago. According to an FBI affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint against Ornelas and Petruccelli, the men visited several potential targets, posing as customers and looking for their favorite combination: a jewelry store with an empty business or nail salon next door. They then cased a handful of medical-marijuana dispensaries for good measure.
One month later, in May 2018, the crew was ready to roll. They rented a vehicle with Illinois license plates and headed north, back to Chicago. This time, their vehicle would have been filled with police scanners and encrypted radios, with specially tipped drill bits and drywall saws. Only Granims knew that a GPS tracker was broadcasting their route to the FBI, mile by mile.
According to MacVeigh, Granims, Ornelas, and Petruccelli were taken into custody by an FBI SWAT team as they prepared to perform their first Chicago heist. They were led away separately, ensuring Ornelas and Petruccelli could not see that Granims was not, in fact, arrested. The whole thing was choreographed, designed to hide the fact that a member of their crew had flipped.
As part of his agreement to speak with me for this article, Granims made it clear that he would not discuss these recent burglaries. When I asked him about Ornelas, however—a man he had been friends with since the 1980s—Granims offered only regrets. “I don’t know how Mike’s going to feel later,” Granims eventually admitted. “I think probably the best thing for me is to not communicate with him, honestly. To not be aligned with Mike in the future would be healthy for both of us. It’s a bad combination.”
What happened since the night of the FBI raid was not entirely clear. Granims remained a free man, despite the fact that, as a May 2018 criminal complaint explained and as MacVeigh himself emphasized to me, the FBI did not grant Granims immunity for his help investigating the Florida heists, but only for the bust in Chicago. Ornelas and Petruccelli each pleaded guilty and received less than four years in prison. More importantly, they were charged only with the Chicago plot—a travesty, Crowley insisted, adding that a successful racketeering case against the crew could have put them all away for decades. (Michael Ornelas’s lawyer declined to discuss these allegations; Matthew Petruccelli’s lawyer did not respond to multiple attempts at contact.)
Then, on the morning of November 12, 2019, Tony Granims was arrested by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. His arrest was specifically connected to a Kay Jewelers burglary in Brooksville, Florida, in December 2017—the same one that produced the chocolate diamond ring that MacVeigh saw Ornelas handling in Petruccelli’s Florida pawn shop. As of this writing, Granims faces two charges: travel across county lines to commit burglary and, to Mike Crowley’s delight, racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. If found guilty of racketeering, Granims could face as many as 20 years in prison; for now, he remains out on bond. Granims’s only comment to me after the arrest was that he regrets his actions and accepts responsibility for the harm he has caused others.
As this article was being prepared for publication, on December 12, 2019, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference. In what he dubbed “Operation Out Mastered,” Sheriff Al Nienhuis unveiled a sweeping set of charges against Ornelas, Granims, and Petruccelli, accusing the crew of 23 jewelry-store burglaries across the state of Florida, with a total haul of $16 to $18 million. He described Ornelas as the “mastermind” of the group—indeed, “one of the top five safecrackers in the world.” At long last, Nienhuis added, all of the victimized storeowners will be notified.
The press conference did not mention the work of Mike Crowley.
For now, Granims is out on bond, living with his regrets and a small family, including a 10-month-old daughter. Michael Ornelas is currently being held in the Miami Federal Correctional Institute, presumably counting down the days until his release, in October 2021. John MacVeigh remains retired, listening to The Eagles, watching the Florida sun set over a freshly mown lawn.
And Mike Crowley is—well, Mike Crowley, is living with his wife of 46 years in a small town outside Gainesville, relishing his role stopping one of the most sophisticated burglary crews in Florida history. Crowley now sends me reports of break-ins by other, emerging crews, scanning police bulletins for a new case he might crack. “There is no traffic in Gainesville,” he once told me, “and there is no crime.” Perhaps that’s why Crowley works so hard to find it elsewhere.