The last of 11 suspects involved in a September 2011 jewelry heist pleaded guilty in Forsyth County Superior Court on Monday, the day their jury trial was slated to start.
Sentences for the defendants ranged between 10 and 20 years depending on their involvement in the heist, during which about $2.5 million in jewelry was stolen from Milano Fine Jewelry on Buford Highway.
Eight of the 11 defendants entered their pleas before Judge David Dickinson on Thursday, Friday and Monday.
The other three pleaded guilty in November and December.
All of the remaining suspects would have been tried together had the trial, which was expected to take weeks, gone forward.
Officials arrested the 11 suspects as a result of an investigation that found evidence linking them to other similar crimes across the state and region, which may have totaled more than $22 million in property damage and theft.
Ten men and one woman were charged with two counts of felony theft by taking, one count of burglary and one count Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.
Assistant District Attorney James Dunn was pleased with the outcome.
“They got what they deserved,” he said. “I think it sends a strong message to people all over Atlanta that are involved in these types of crimes that they won’t come here.”
Dunn said the 10 convicted men visited the store in two groups: seven on the evening of Sept. 24, 2011, and four in the early hours of Sept. 25, 2011.
The harshest sentences went to the men in the first group who pleaded guilty to all four counts, including racketeering.
“In RICO Act, you have to show a conspiracy among the individuals and then different predicate acts that they’ve each committed,” Dunn said. “And we had a lot of evidence on the first crew due to Mr. [Kenardis] Holloway’s testimony and other items in other jurisdictions.
“In the first crew, we could prove that there was a RICO conspiracy. We didn’t have enough evidence to do that on the second group.”
Dunn said the RICO convictions can be used against them for prosecution in other jurisdictions, though it hasn’t happened yet.
“We kind of spearheaded it,” he said. “I expect that other jurisdictions will begin charging them.”
Those who pleaded guilty to all four counts included: Christopher Funderburk, 33; James Love, 42; Dave Parker, 32; Eric Stephens, 36; Michael Young, 44; and Holloway, 33.
All are from Atlanta except Holloway, who is of Smyrna.
Love and Stephens, both of whom entered the store, received sentences of 20 years, with eight years to be served in confinement and the remainder on probation.
Funderburk and Parker, who were lookouts, and Young each received 20-year sentences, with seven to serve.
Young, who also entered the store, was the first to plead guilty of the group, having done so on Nov. 14.
Dunn said his DNA evidence was found on a cigarette butt at the business.
Holloway pleaded guilty on Dec. 19, but his sentencing was withheld until after he testified in the trials of the other defendants.
Carl Bowser, 27, who had been a lookout in a car with Holloway, received a 15-year sentence, of which five will be spent in prison.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and one of burglary, but not the violation of the RICO Act.
The men in the second group to visit the store each pleaded guilty to fewer charges and received lesser sentences.
Giacobi Kelly, 36, received 20 years, with two to serve, for one count of burglary.
Kelly took the call from the first crew asking for a second group to follow up, Dunn said.
Demetrice Jenkins, 37, and Devoria Wright, 36, each received 10 years with two to serve.
Jenkins pleaded to one count of burglary and Wright to one count of theft.
The 11th defendant, 28-year-old Amanda Hogan of Jonesboro, pleaded guilty on Nov. 28 to one count of violation of the RICO Act and received a 10-year sentence with 18 months to be served in confinement.
“She didn’t actually participate in the burglary,” Dunn said. “She just tried to help cover it up after the fact.”
The series of events was verified through cell phone records, he said.
The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office initially followed a lead from the night of Sept. 24, 2011, when a deputy investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle in the strip mall across the street had spoken with lookouts Holloway and Bowser, who are cousins.
“He did not have enough to arrest him at that time, but he saw some suspicious things inside the vehicle, including jewelry,” Dunn said.
After that encounter, all seven in the first group left. Funderburk then called Kelly, and four men returned to take more jewelry in the early morning hours, he said.
Three of those men were among the convicted, but the fourth was killed in Atlanta prior to the indictments.
The Milano theft was reported on Sept. 26, 2011, by a construction crew working at an empty building next door.
The crew arrived for work that morning and found a hole in the wall that authorities have said the suspects used to enter Milano.
The suspects had disabled the security system, ransacked the store, breached the safe and taken security equipment.
Authorities later recovered about $300,000 worth of the stolen merchandise.