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Higher gold prices make small-town jewelry stores bigger targets

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Take an economic downturn that has hit the Placer County area hard. Add rapidly escalating gold and silver prices. And wait for criminals to strike. Lincoln, Auburn and Nevada City jewelry stores have all been hit in recent weeks by burglars, while a second Auburn store was victimized during store hours by a team of sneak thieves. The losses have been heavy. Downtown Auburn’s Golden Swann lost diamond encrusted white-gold pieces valued at more than $21,000 in the April 7 theft. Lincoln Jewelers tallied up $50,000 in stolen jewelry after a late-night break-in with a heavy hammer March 8. Sierra Moon Goldsmith’s was broken into early Monday, again by hammer-wielding thieves. Silver jewelry in display cases was taken while more valuable gold pieces stayed secure in the store’s vault. At about the same time, thieves hooked a chain up to the security door of Nevada City’s La Cache and yanked it off using a vehicle. One suspect – Robert Dean Henson, 29, of Sacramento, was arrested soon after near Dry Creek Road and Highway 49 in North Auburn. As of Wednesday, Auburn Police were indicating no leads in the Golden Swann or Sierra Moon cases. Jim Hutchings, of Naturally Mine of Foresthill jewelers, said that with gold prices at $1,500 an ounce – the highest in three decades – and silver at $45 an ounce, jewelers have more to lose and criminals more to gain these days. “They have to watch things a little closer – there’s more value sitting out on our tables,” Hutchings said. “These are desperate times for desperate people.” Hutchings, who retired from the California Highway Patrol with 30 years of law-enforcement experience, said that he and his wife are always on guard when they’re working a booth at an event. One will be watching the gold jewelry he makes and the other will be watching visitors. “If they’re looking at us and not at the jewelry, then there’s something wrong,” Hutchings said. “So, I’m looking at them.” Ben Asgharzadeh, Golden Swann co-owner, said he feels the gold has already been melted down and the diamonds fenced from the jewelry stolen less than a month ago from the shop. The store insured items in its safe but the items being displayed were not, he said. Asgharzadeh said he’s not planning any stringent security upgrades at the Lincoln Way store. “I’m not going to make a jailhouse,” he said. “I’m still going to make people feel comfortable here.” Asgharzadeh said the economy was a major factor in the rash of thefts. “And it’s going to get worse,” he said. “People need money and they have to get it somewhere.” As the price of gold has risen, the Golden Swann has seen its share of heartbreaking stories. One customer brought in gold so she would have money to feed her family. Another came in to trade gold for cash to buy insulin. The Golden Swann ended up giving her the money she needed, he said.