By Jesse Robitaille
A pair of Colombian nationals have been arrested and charged for stealing nearly half a million dollars worth of numismatic material from a Vancouver dealer this March.
On March 1, after leaving the Calgary Spring Coin Show & Money Fair, dealer Joe Iorio was checking in at the Calgary Airport when his bags were stolen. Altogether, a total of $430,310 worth of coins, paper money and bullion was stolen from Iorio, who’s the owner of J&M Coin & Jewellery.
“I am still unclear how the accused initially identified Mr. Iorio as a victim,” said Detective Phil Hunt, of the Calgary Police Service, which worked alongside the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on the nearly three-month inter-provincial investigation.
“I do know, however, that this appeared to be a well-organized, targeted crime involving static and moving surveillance of the victim at the show and then as he left to go to return to the Calgary Airport. No violence was used, and they appear to have patiently waited for the opportunity to steal the victim’s bags.”
On May 27, Andres Garzon Gil and Natalia Arevalo Torres – both Colombian nationals living in Vancouver – were arrested and charged with theft over $5,000. They have both been released on bail with the promise to appear in a Calgary court on July 22, “although this a first appearance only, not a trial,” added Hunt.
“There was delay in the arrest process because of the logistics involved dealing with COVID-19 and the process in extending the arrest warrants to another province.”
While the results of a search warrant are still being processed, the amount of stolen material recovered by police “would appear to be minimal, unfortunately,” Hunt said.
“Mr. Iorio has been updated through the process, and he appears to be encouraged by the arrests,” he added.
After learning about the charges, Iorio told CCN: “I certainly think the officer in charge of the case did a fantastic job. He was, as far as I know, working overtime to solve the case, so he definitely deserves credit for being so diligent in his job.”
CALGARY COLLECTOR LENDS A HAND
The investigation began in early March with Hunt making “enquiries on a national basis with regard to the identification of the suspects.”
He then began communicating with officers from both the VPD and CBSA.
“That dialogue resulted in charges laid and a second male now being dealt with by CBSA,” added Hunt, who said the second male’s details “are not on public record.”
Collector James Williston, the former president and an honorary life member of the Calgary Numismatic Society (CNS), also assisted police with the investigation.
“James Williston was immensely supportive, assisting with communication, educating me about the numismatic society and providing vital witness assistance,” said Hunt, who added collectors and dealers should maintain “constant vigilance” at shows and other events.
“It became apparent to me, through James, that the numismatic society members are quite often known to each other and that suspicious persons and activity stand out,” he added. “On that basis, I think it’s quite reasonable for suspicious activity to be reported and monitored by organizers, and security or police called if required.”
Hunt also noted show organizers’ use of security cameras was “vital” to the investigation and recommended “having cameras recording good facial images at entry and exit points and advertising the fact that this is being done.”
“I think the shows would be considered a ‘soft target,’ and members need to review their own safety planning and look to support each other.”
While Hunt has investigated collectible thefts before, they generally relate to break and enters and “never in such a large amount,” he said, adding he’s “very impressed by the support provided by members and their willingness to help and work together.”
Williston, meanwhile, offered this advice to would-be thieves: “If you do steal coins, sometimes you get caught.”
VIDEO SECURITY FOR ‘PEACE OF MIND’
As for show organizers, Williston suggested they invest in video surveillance to complement any physical security guards who are watching the bourse area.
“It’s becoming more and more important,” said Williston, who’s the chair of the biannual CNS shows.
The CNS purchased a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system in 2019, before hosting the annual convention of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA).
“Over the years, we noticed more organizers acquiring CCTV for their shows, and we thought it would be a good idea to do it ourselves. It saved the RCNA some money from lugging their system all the way down to Calgary, and it gave us a chance to play with it before our show that fall,” he added.
This spring’s CNS show – where the suspects allegedly committed the crime – was only the third time the system was used.
Organizers’ suspicions were first roused this spring when they noticed “two individuals who stood out from the crowd,” Williston said. One person was at a dealer table across from Iorio’s booth – “he was flipping through a paper money binder but wasn’t really looking for any special country or note” – and another person was sitting at Iorio’s booth reading a newspaper.
“We thought something was suspicious, but at that time, they hadn’t done anything illegal yet,” Williston said, adding he and two other dealers safely escorted Iorio out of the bourse when the show ended – a common security technique at shows.
“Then the two suspects left within 10 minutes out of the back door of the bourse.”
Security footage from the show’s CCTV system was used in the investigation alongside other footage from the hotel; the airport; and a taxi taken by the suspects following the theft.
“I would suggest all organizers invest in CCTV for peace of mind for both the dealers and the public,” Williston added. “The club hosts these shows out of the goodness of their heart and to raise awareness for the hobby, but their reputation is on the line. It’s the responsibility of the club to provide information and input to help solve any potential crimes, and if something does happen, video is the first thing police will want to look at.”
Without the show’s CCTV system, this nearly half-a-million-dollar crime might still be unsolved, Williston said.
“A good CCTV system gives some peace of mind to the club, knowing they’ve done the best they can to prevent any incidents and provide an extra step in security.”