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Precious knowledge helped break theft case

The watchful eye of a Medford jewelry buyer helped detectives track the suspects accused of stealing more than $60,000 worth of jewelry from an Ashland store.

Michael and Clare Cotta, who own the family-run Rogue Valley Coin and Jewelry, said the store found clues that the expensive ring four young people tried to sell them was stolen. Rather than turn the suspects away last week, their son opted to pay the suspects $150 for one Simon G. ring — far below its $4,000 value — to get a suspect's photo ID before alerting police.

"He deliberately bought it," Clare Cotta said, adding that Chris Cotta paid an artificially low price knowing the store wouldn't get its money back after turning over the stolen property.

Red flags abounded May 10, when Anthony Michael Verastegui and Tristan Torres allegedly tried to sell two rings from the luxury brand some 10 minutes before closing time. Chris Cotta said Verastegui had an open wound on his face and only Torres could provide photo identification. 

Chris Cotta said the ring itself had signs of being from a store display, and knew Simon G. jewelry was sold at Gold & Gems in Ashland. Chris Cotta said the ring had sticky residue from a hastily-removed price tag. Store display rings are temporarily set with cubic zirconia, Clare Cotta said, so the customer can select a permanent stone. A luxury brand wouldn't be sold in such a configuration. 

Verastegui, Kelli N. O'Neil and Jonathon Andres Collins were arraigned Friday on aggravated theft charges alleging they conspired to steal 15 rings — each valued at more than $1,000 and totaling $61,000 — from Gold & Gems Fine Jewelry in Ashland last week.

On May 10, Verastegui took the displayed rings while O'Neil and Collins distracted a store associate, according to court documents filed by Ashland police.

None of the three suspects in the Ashland jewelry theft could provide a photo ID to Rogue Valley Coin and Jewelry, so Verastegui conspired with Torres to sell the ring for them, according to court documents. Torres has not yet been charged with a crime in the case, court documents show.

Clare Cotta said the store can't ask for identification ahead of a sale, so her son had to make the sale to get the seller's information.

The store, along with 27 pawnshops and jewelry resellers in the area, is very careful not to buy stolen property, she said. Purchased items are immediately uploaded to the Law Enforcement Data System that police can access, but Cotta said Medford police are quick to respond when called.

There's also a list above their store's copier with the names of about 2,500 people they don't buy from as a store policy.

"They're on what we call our 'hot list,' " she said.

Though the store dramatically underpaid for the suspects' ring to help break the case, Clare Cotta said legitimate sellers are treated fairly, and the store takes precautions to avoid stolen goods.

"We advertise we buy jewelry. We're fair," she said. "We have to be very, very careful."

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Anthony Verastegui, Jonathon Andres Collins, Kelli O'Neil [Jackson County Jail]