- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - More than a million dollars in watches - mostly from a Cartier store in Manhattan - were snatched from luxury jewelry shops in New York, New Jersey and Virginia before authorities say they were able to arrest a smash-and-grab crew of four men.

Two of the suspects stole more than $700,000 in timepieces from the Cartier store, authorities said Wednesday.

The four suspects were charged in federal court in Manhattan with conspiracy to commit robbery.

Authorities say they terrorized customers and employees by smashing display cases with hammers and stealing high-end timepieces at stores including the Bernie Robbins Jewelers at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., on July 1, Schwarzschild’s Jewelers in Richmond, Va., on Aug. 3 and Martin Jewelers in Cranford, N.J. on Jan. 9.

Police Commissioner William Bratton said the break in the case came when two men were arrested shortly after they brazenly walked into the Manhattan Cartier store Jan. 30 and stole watches.

“It took sophisticated, modern crime fighting techniques to tie the heists together,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a news release the four men are accused of combining “forethought with force, scouting out their targets and then terrorizing customers and employees.”

The attacks occurred between July 1 and Jan. 30 as several members of the crew entered a jewelry or watch store, smashed glass display cases with hammers and grabbed luxury watches before fleeing within minutes to a getaway car, authorities said.

During the August robbery in Virginia, robbers used a hand-held stun gun to subdue a female store employee before fleeing with more than $100,000 in watches, prosecutors said.

In court papers, FBI agent Daniel McCaffrey said he reviewed video surveillance and spoke with victims and witnesses to learn that the defendants visited each store prior to the robbery to study its layout and where high-end merchandise was displayed.

If convicted, the men can face up to 20 years in prison.