Store Wants Payback After Big Jewelry Heist

     HOUSTON (CN) – A trio of burglars stole more than $6 million in merchandise from a jewelry store, then melted down 99 pounds of that gold in less than 24 hours and sold it through an unwitting Dallas broker for $1.6 million, the store’s owners claim.
     The owners of Karat 22 Jewelers in Houston say two brothers, Kelvin and John O’Brien, and accomplice Jason Kennedy broke into their store on Feb. 6 and took more than $6 million in gold, jewelry and precious stones.
     The men cut through the store’s roof and vault, and surveillance tape from a nearby business shows them dragging heavy objects from the store to their truck around 4:30 a.m., according to news reports.
     Karat-22’s owners told reporters the men got away with 155 kilos of 22-karat gold, precious stones and Rolex watches.
     “Following the theft, defendants Kelvin O’Brien, John O’Brien and Jason Kennedy melted down the gold, and on February 7 defendant John O’Brien took two Home Depot buddy buckets containing 99 lbs. of melted gold from the Karat 22 robbery” to a shop called Millennium Precious Metals in Dallas, according to the complaint filed in Harris County Court.
     Millennium Precious Metals owner, Brian Wallis, bought the gold by wiring $1.6 million to John O’Brien or one of his front companies, Karat 22’s owners say.
     John O’Brien took two more buckets with 85 pounds of melted gold to Millennium Precious Metals on Feb. 11, and Wallis bought those for $1.3 million, according to the complaint.
     “Soon after the burglary, police said Kelvin O’Brien paid cash for a $445,000 home, put in an $85,000 pool, bought a $100,000 Land Rover and a $100,000 boat,” according to a report by KHOU News in Houston.
     Wallis either sold the gold outright to a company called NTR Metals or received a broker fee for transferring possession to it, the Karat 22 owners say in their lawsuit.
     “It is currently not known what NTR Metals LLC has done with plaintiffs’ stolen gold that thus far has been traced to NTR Metals,” the complaint states.
     Besides buying cars and houses with the theft proceeds, the O’Briens and Kennedy, also put it into a web of companies they set up to sell stolen goods from this heist and others, according to the complaint.
     The trio is reportedly suspected to be responsible for as many as 30 jewelry thefts in three states.
     John O’Brien and his wife, Derenda Lea Neatherlin aka Derenda Marsh aka Derenda O’Brien, set up five different front companies and used the burglary proceeds to invest in equipment, the owners of Karat 22 say.
     “According to law enforcement agencies investigating this matter, the businesses set up by defendant John O’Brien and defendant Neatherlin are not currently operating,” according to the complaint. “In fact these businesses are in the process of liquidating assets.”
     The couple has placed cranes and other equipment for auction with Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers in Fort Worth, scheduled for Oct. 4 and 5, according to the complaint. “This equipment was purchased at the time of this robbery, and while some of the equipment are subject to liens, it is believed some of the proceeds from the robbery of plaintiffs were used in the purchase of all of some or all of this equipment,” the owners say.
     “Plaintiffs seek a restraining order preventing the sale of this equipment until an agreement can be reached in terms of protecting the proceeds from said sale.”
     Amrut Inc. dba Karat 22 Jewelers and five of its owners also seek damages from the burglars and their front companies for theft, unjust enrichment and conspiracy. John O’Brien’s wife, Derenda, is also a defendant.
     The owners, who all go by the surname Patel, also seek conspiracy damages from Millennium Precious Metals and owner Brian Wallis for brokering the sale of their stolen gold, and from NTR Metals for buying it.
     Wallis reportedly said John O’Brien told him the gold was from a jewelry store liquidating everything because it went out of business. He said he believed them because he had worked with the O’Briens in the past.
     Karat 22’s owners also seek a permanent injunction to stop the burglars from selling any of their companies’ assets, as well as actual damages of more than $6 million.
     The O’Briens and Kennedy have been arrested and await arraignment in Harris County.

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