Canadian Push Feature
How two professional diamond thieves were finally captured in Canada - and the criminal past they leave behind
Nov. 16, 2016: By Sean Colarossi, Staff Writer, The D&D Daily
When a $10,000 diamond was stolen in a "split-second" swap at a Saint John jewelry store last month, nobody expected the incident to be part of a series of cross-country thefts carried about by professional diamond thieves with extensive criminal records.
But that's exactly what it turned out to be.
After Grigori Zaharov, 70, and Natalia Feldman, 44, strolled into W. Smith and Co. Fine Jewellers on Oct. 7 and effortlessly swapped a real diamond with an “impressive fake”, they likely thought they had made off with yet another valuable piece of jewelry. But it turned out to be the beginning of the end for the pair of career criminals.
That is in large part thanks to W. Smith and Co. owner Wayne Smith, who quickly went public with his story and released surveillance footage of the theft as it took place. He also encouraged other jewelry stores to come forward to share their stories and work together to curb these crimes.
Soon after Smith spoke out, law enforcement and other store owners in cities all across Canada were quick to contact him and share their information. It was only a matter of time before a trail of nationwide diamond thefts - many pointing at Zaharov and Feldman - came into view.
It turned out that the couple didn’t just carry out the $10,000 swap in Saint John on Oct. 7, but they also pulled the same stunt with a $20,000 diamond at a Charlottetown store on Oct. 12.
As news of these thefts spread, other jewelry locations across Canada began to connect the dots about similar incidents that had taken place in their own businesses.
According to a report from the Toronto Sun, Smith estimates that the pair has stolen “more than $1 million” in diamonds from stores across the country, based on what law enforcement and other owners told him.
“The fact that they have been seen from Vancouver all the way over to the East Coast would indicate they made a lot of stops on the way,” said John Lamont, Director of Loss Prevention for Jewellers Vigilance Canada, according to the same Toronto Sun report.
Lamont said there have been at least five similar incidents “from coast to coast” and some stores might not even be aware that they were hit.
Not long after Smith released his store’s surveillance footage, Zaharov and Feldman were arrested near Toronto. The CBC reports that their next court appearance is set for Nov. 17 when they will face charges related to the $10,000 and $20,000 swaps.
Even before their diamond swapping crusade across Canada, Zaharov and Feldman were no strangers to the law.
According to The Star, Feldman was “charged with assault with a weapon and willfully damaging Zaharov’s property” just one year ago. Ten days before that incident, Feldman was charged with assaulting Zaharov using a mug. She faced similar charges in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
When it comes to Zaharov, it’s not just Smith's surveillance footage that displays what a seasoned criminal he is. His record also shows that he’s had constant legal troubles dating back to the early 1990s.
In 1992, police discovered “housebreaking instruments” in his possession along with a map of several locations that were marked with X’s, including a Radio Shack store that was robbed at the time. Seven years later, Zaharov had to serve jail time after being charged with theft of under $5,000. He faced similar charges in 2000 and 2003.
Now, after leading authorities on a cross-country investigation, it appears the couple’s criminal activity will be coming to an abrupt halt, largely thanks to the collaboration between law enforcement and store owners across Canada.
“A good old little Saint John store was responsible for bringing down, it looks like, a major theft ring,” Wayne Smith told the CBC.