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February 5, 2000
Three charged with jeweler's murder
Shanthi Shankarkumar in Chicago
Vinod Mehta was three months shy of retiring to Connecticut and giving up his jewelry business for good. He wanted to devote his retirement to spreading the gospel of the Bhagvad Gita.
But on January 17, Mehta, 58, was gunned down right outside his driveway in Wheeling, near Chicago. According to Jewelers Security, criminals have killed 281 jewelers since 1994.
Ten days after Mehta's murder, three Chicago men -- Francisco G Soliz, 60, Jorge Castillo 31, and Emilio Bolanos, 24 -- were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, the police announced recently.
According to Michael Hermes, deputy chief of the Wheeling police, the trail started in West Alice, a suburb of Wisconsin where the police got a lead in the form of an Illinois license plate thought to be linked to robberies of jewelers there. Over the next several days, the police tracked the plate to some of the suspects and began watching them closely. Their investigations led them to a neighborhood in Chicago and, finally, to the Woodridge Festival shopping strip in Woodridge.
There, on January 27, the three suspects, along with two other men and a woman, were caught trying to rob the car of a jewelry salesman. The police shot one of the suspects, who is not one of the murder defendants, in the leg. He was treated in a hospital and released in less than an hour.
"We got statements from them which implicated them in the murder. They have admitted to killing Mehta," said Hermes. The three men are believed to be part of a ring of thieves that stalked jewelers.
Mehta had been robbed before, too. His car was robbed in 1992 and jewelry worth almost $ 100,000 was stolen. No arrests were made for that crime. It is not known if the same ring was also responsible for that robbery.
"If the police had busted the ring after that burglary, perhaps this might not have happened. It took a life to be lost before the police took action," said Josh Modi, Mehta's brother-in-law.
The shooting took place between 1600 and 1630. Mehta had returned to his home after meeting with clients near Milwaukee. He pulled up in front of his home and got out of his car. As he was walking up the driveway, another car pulled up and the people inside jumped out and grabbed his jewelry case, the police said.
Mehta was shot because he might have resisted the robbers. There was nobody home at that time and a neighbor intimated the police. The value of the stolen jewelry has not been ascertained, since the robbers are believed to have sold them all.
He has been in the jewelry business for the last 10 years. He came to America about 20 years ago and worked as an accountant for a while before moving to the wholesale jewelry business.
"He was very cautious after his car had been robbed in 1992. He worked from home and he was aware of the dangers but, at his age, he could not switch careers," said Modi.
Mehta was a very "devotional, content, non-materialistic" person, Modi said.
"He had no enemies. His neighbors could not believe that anybody could do this to such a nice, friendly man". Mehta's wife and a 30-year old son survive him.
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