Three suspects charged in connection with a high-profile robbery at Il Pastaio appeared in federal court on May 12, their first hearing since their arrests for the “brazen” March 4 robbery of a high-end watch. Two of the suspects who are accused of committing the armed robbery, Malik Lamont Powell, 20, and Khai McGhee, 18, have been detained; Marquise Anthony Gardon, 30, who authorities say drove the getaway vehicle, has been released on $25,000 bond. All three have been charged with Conspiracy to Commit Interference with Commerce by Robbery of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1951(a). McGhee and Powell will next appear in court on June 3 for their arraignment; Gardon will return on June 17.
The Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) announced the arrests in a joint press conference with the FBI, which provided assistance in the investigation.
“Beverly Hills Police Detectives, along with the FBI, worked tirelessly on this case,” said BHPD Interim Chief Dominick Rivetti. “The case was solved through witness statements, examination of digital evidence, and DNA evidence recovered from the scene. This is an excellent example of modern police work, tenacious investigative work combined with technology, and a strong cooperative effort between the FBI and the Beverly Hills Police Department.”
According to FBI Special Agent Matthew Moon, who leads the Bureau’s L.A. field office and participated in the press conference, the suspects are members of the Rollin’ 30s Harlem Crips street gang. Lawyers for the defendants did not respond to requests for comment.
The criminal complaint alleges that five individuals were involved in the robbery. An affidavit filed by an FBI special agent in support of the charges alleges that Powell’s car, a black BMW 328i GT, was used as the getaway vehicle and that cell site location and GPS data showed his phone near Il Pastaio at the time of the robbery. The affidavit further claims that Powell sent social media messages after the robbery, telling one user, “That’s The Richard Mille,” and posted images of “guns and high-value wristwatches.”
The affidavit describes another suspect scouting out the area minutes before the robbery, “a woman wearing a dark colored top with white writing on the chest and white stripes down the left sleeve.” The woman walked around the Business Triangle pretending to speak on her phone, the affidavit says, but, in reality, took note of the Richard Mille-RM-11-03 Rose Gold Flyback watch worn by Shy Belhassen as he dined at Il Pastaio.
Soon, McGhee, Powell, and a third suspect descended on Belhassen, who described the experience to the Courier in the immediate aftermath of the incident. “I just saw them walking down, then running towards me with a gun,” he said.
One of the three men put a gun to his head while two others took off his watch, which Belhassen valued at $500,000. Belhassen had purchased the watch at a jeweler located mere blocks from where it was stolen. Belhassen said that he then “grabbed the gun” from the suspect and “fought him to the ground.” In the ensuing scuffle, the gun went off and injured another patron, Amanda Shawshan, who sustained a minor injury as a result.
While the robbers made off with his watch, Belhassen managed to wrest the gun away from them. One other thing that a suspect left behind: his DNA. According to the affidavit, blood stains found on Belhassen’s shirt were swabbed, processed, and matched to McGhee’s genetic fingerprints. Belhassen is offering a $50,000 reward for help recovering the watch.
According to a March 4 statement, BHPD first received reports of a robbery and gunshots around 2:09 p.m. and arrived on the scene “within 90 seconds.” After the robbery, the affidavit details steps the suspects allegedly took to sell the watch. Based on Instagram messages and cell tower location data obtained by the investigation, Powell went to a jeweler in Chinatown only hours after stealing the watch. The jeweler told the Courier that he recognized the watch from news reports and declined to buy it.
The difficulty of fencing highly publicized and extremely rare contraband was becoming clear to Powell as well. In Instagram messages between Powell and an account belonging to an unnamed individual, Powell discusses trying to sell the watch for “140”–likely $140,000. The other party cautions Powell to “stay low it’s all over the news [sic.].”
Beverly Hills has seen a number of high-profile robberies since the new year. On April 26, two students at Beverly Hills High School reported that two female suspects stole a gold necklace from one victim’s neck and attempted to steal a cellphone from the other victim. Police made an arrest in the case on April 29.
Rivetti attributed these incidents to a “spike in crime throughout California,” which he tied to criminal justice reform measures passed over the last several years, including AB 109, Proposition 47 and Prop 57.
Despite the headline grabbing incidents, crime remains down, according to the most recent statistics released by BHPD. The monthly report for March noted an increase in aggravated assaults, but a decrease in property crime and a 25 percent drop in robberies. Total crime is down 8 percent compared to the same time last year. While the first COVID-19 lockdown could distort the comparison, March of this year saw fewer crimes (98) than March of 2019 (135).
When asked about the department’s own data indicating lower crime rates, Rivetti said, “We’re still seeing [that] crime is down, but we’re seeing an uptick.”