- Associated Press - Thursday, October 12, 2017

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) - Police have recovered about $70,000 worth of merchandise that was stolen from a Maui store, but are still searching for the remaining items estimated to be worth $30,000.

Police returned 12 of the stolen Niihau shell lei to Maui Hands on Tuesday. The store’s owner, Panna Cappelli, said the staff was in tears as the officers reunited them with the lei.

“It’s funny. I don’t think in terms of the retail value. It was really an emotional value,” Cappelli said. “I know some details, but I don’t know what I can share. It’s ongoing. They’re not finished trying to find the rest.”

Cappelli said most of the items returned were the “priceless, collector, museum pieces.”

Lt. Derrick Lopez, head of the Property Crimes Unit of the Criminal Investigation Division, said police are continuing to track leads and have made several arrests. He could not provide further details.

“It was outstanding police work that led to the leis being recovered and returned back to the owner,” Lopez said.

Surveillance video caught a man smashing the store’s glass door on July 17. In less than a minute, the man stole 25 of the rare lei and five expensive knives.

The remaining 13 stolen lei are Poepoe round weave lei and Kahelelani single, double and triple strand lei, Cappelli said. She said they are relatively more popular and range from $400 to $3,400.

The lei and jewelry are protected by state law, which prohibits the sale of seashell items with a description or label using the term Niihau unless 100 percent of the shells are from the island and it is made entirely in Hawaii, according to the Ni’ihau Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Since the incident, Cappelli has increased security at her Upcountry and Paia galleries. She said police advised her on thieves’ techniques, and she now has iron gates over her doors.

“This kind of instance breaks you of that naiveté really quick,” she said. “I got a real eye-opener when I saw how easy it was for him to get into my door.”

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