How 2 Diamonds Worth Nearly $160K Were Stolen in Plain Sight From Chicago’s Jewelers Row

CHICAGO (Chicago Tribune/TNS) -
diamonds chicago
Tamaz Hubel (Miami Police Department)

The diamond heist appeared flawless.

The man arrived at the Jewelers Row store when the receptionist was out. In a thick accent he said his name was Henry and he was shopping for his boss in Russia. Without checking his identification, a salesperson showed him into a private room and brought out a box full of diamonds, each wrapped in tissue.

As they talked, the man pulled a price list from his black briefcase and — when the salesperson wasn’t looking — covered the box and grabbed two diamonds, replacing them with empty wrappers, according to a police report.

The store didn’t discover the theft until June 11, four days later. It was another three days until a warrant was issued for the man, Tamaz Hubel, 67, whose last known address was in southern Florida. Hubel was taken into custody 10 days later at Miami International Airport as he was about to board a flight to France.

Police said nothing about the diamonds being recovered. They are valued at nearly $160,000.

Not much is known about Hubel, but the diamond industry has had him in its sights for a while.

Hubel has been accused of pulling off at least four other jewel thefts in the last 10 years, each time using the sleight-of-hand trick he displayed at the Loop store. He’s been charged with three thefts in Belgium, each about a year apart, and at least one on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 2010. The diamonds he swiped ranged in value from $4,500 to more than $130,000.

After the New York theft, an industry publication passed along a “quiet warning” from the Diamond Importers and Manufacturers Association of America about “this questionable man.”

“Please stop reading right now and go count your diamonds — each and every diamond in your stock,” the publication urged. “It’s an old game.”

The publication said it was unable to come up with much more about Hubel, who in New York went by the name of Roman Rozzen from the Rikko Company. He was said to be from Eastern Europe.

That part, at least, appears to be true. According to court records and other public documents, Hubel was born in the country of Georgia, a former Soviet Republic north of Turkey, on Feb. 22, 1951. He has used two last names, Hubel and Hubelashvili. He has two passports, one from Israel and the other from the United States, and holds dual citizenship.

Public records indicate he lived in the New York City area from the middle 1980s, including a condo across the street from Central Park. He appears to have moved to Sunny Isles Beach north of Miami Beach in 2005.

That’s the year Hubel first appears in criminal records. He was arrested in Miami-Dade County for petty theft. No details were available and the charges were later dropped.

Six years later, Hubel was summoned to the federal court in Atlanta after the Belgium government demanded his extradition for three diamond thefts in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In each case, Hubel placed a paper over diamonds he was being shown and stole one of them: one worth $40,000, another $26,000 and the third $4,500. In all three thefts he produced a passport bearing the name Hubelashvili.

Court records show he was ordered to Belgium in December of 2011, but it’s not known how much time, if any, he spent behind bars there.

In the New York case, police say a camera caught Hubel entering Leo Schachter Diamonds on 5th Avenue and slipping two diamonds worth $50,000 from a table while talking to a sales associate on Feb. 24, 2010. He was arrested the next day and charged with grand larceny.

After the theft, the International Diamond Exchange, an industry trade group, warned its members that Hubel and other “crooks” were “masquerading as legitimate diamond buyers to get into your office ostensibly looking to make a purchase. Then, they somehow succeed in pocketing a few stones before politely leaving your office without buying anything.”

That’s exactly what Hubel is accused of doing on Jewelers Row on June 7, according to Chicago police.

After calling for an appointment at Ofer Mizrahi Diamonds, Hubel showed up at the front door of the 11th-floor suite at 29 E. Madison St. and said in a “heavy accent” that he was buying diamonds for a “boss” in Russia. He was allowed inside and introduced himself as Henry from Canada.

The receptionist who made his appointment was not at work that day and the other one was out to lunch, so a worker allowed Hubel to come in without asking for identification, “a breach of store security,” the police report notes.

Hubel was escorted to a private room. A salesperson opened a box and began showing Hubel several cut diamonds individually wrapped in tissue paper. As they discussed prices, Hubel opened his briefcase and pulled out a “personal price sheet,” police said.

When the sales representative looked away briefly, Hubel plucked a 2-carat diamond worth $26,339 and a 4-carat diamond worth $132,722 while covering the box with his price sheet, police said. After placing three or four diamonds on hold, the meeting ended after about an hour and Hubel walked out at 1:30 p.m.

Hubel was picked up around 9:45 p.m. Sunday at the Miami airport. The arrest warrant listed his occupation as a jeweler.

An extradition hearing to bring Hubel back to Chicago is set for July 10.