Promise of big payday at marijuana dispensary lures Florida thieves to Chicago

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The team of sophisticated jewelry store thieves operated in Florida for years.

Then, a member of the three-person crew got a tempting tip. It turned out a marijuana dispensary in Chicago needed a safe big enough to hold more than $700,000 in twenty-dollar bills.

That’s when the men allegedly decided to expand their horizons and take their show on the road. And now, two of them are charged with plotting a complicated heist in the northwest suburbs while dreaming of more down the road, according to court records filed in Florida.

Michael Clarence Ornelas, 54, and Matthew Petruccelli, 66, are in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. It turns out their unnamed accomplice has been working with FBI agents down south since January.

The three allegedly teamed up around 2013. But the accomplice went to the feds earlier this year and filled them in on the Chicago plot, according to an FBI affidavit. He even carried a tracking device as the group neared the Illinois border last Friday.

Ornelas and Petruccelli were arrested Saturday night as they prepared to pull off a heist in Glenview, according to Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office. The men have agreed to be removed in custody for prosecution to the Southern District of Florida.

Ornelas is a locksmith and brought his tools and knowledge to the operation, according to the affidavit. Petruccelli allegedly rented cars for surveillance, and the accomplice would rent vans to carry equipment. They used encrypted software on their phones to communicate without being monitored, as well as two-way radios and scanners.

It all began to unravel after someone reached out to Ornelas about the marijuana dispensary on Chicago’s North Side that needed a large safe. Ornelas allegedly thought the dispensary would make a good target because the owner would never suspect him.

But after a reconnaissance trip here in April, the group allegedly decided to target two dispensaries in Deerfield and Mount Prospect, as well as a jewelry store in Glenview. On April 17, the crew monitored the jewelry store as well as its shopping plaza in the 2700 block of Pfingsten Road, the feds say. They entered the store and neighboring businesses to study locks, alarms, security cameras and the jewelry store’s safes. They studied workers as they closed for the night, and they took a cylinder from a lock on the rear door of a neighboring business to make a key.

Finally, the group decided to hit the jewelry store late last Saturday, the feds said. The plan allegedly went like this: Ornelas would use the key to enter the neighboring business and cut a hole in the wall. The others would conduct surveillance from rental vehicles and give him an all-clear. When they did, they’d use a cell-phone jamming device as Ornelas entered the jewelry store to disable the alarm and surveillance system.

Next, they would cool it for 30 minutes to make sure the cops hadn’t been summoned. Finally, Ornelas would make his way to the jewelry store’s safes through the neighboring business. He suspected he would need 30 minutes to break into them.

Once they were done, they planned to bring their equipment back to Florida in one vehicle and the jewelry down south in another.

They figured they’d have a chance to hit the marijuana dispensaries next.

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