Breakers jewel thief sentenced to prison
By LARRY KELLER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008
WEST PALM BEACH- — Debonair international jewel thief Nordine Herrina traded his expensive suits for drab jailhouse blues in court today, where he pleaded guilty to stealing two rings from a Palm Beach jewelry store that retailed for $1.5 million.
Herrina, 32, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison after agreeing to plead guilty to two counts of grand theft of more than $100,000. He was credited for the two years he has been in jail, reducing the actual sentence to 18 months. Each charge carried a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
A French citizen, Herrina was a globe-trotting jewel thief extraordinaire who pocketed millions in baubles, authorities say. Dapper and accompanied by a beautiful woman, Herrina used sleight of hand to swindle jewelers in Italy, France, Switzerland, California and New York, they say. On at least one occasion, he claimed he was Prince Khalid of the Saudi royal family.
He was imprisoned in Italy in December 2002, then transported to Switzerland where he was sentenced to the time he already served in Italy. But the United States began extradition proceedings to have him face charges in Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County and Orange County, California.
He arrived in Miami earlier this year. A judge there also sentenced him to the time served abroad, and ordered him to pay $145,000 in restitution. His next stop: the Palm Beach County courthouse.
Before retired Judge Roger Colton sentenced him today, Herrina gave him a neatly printed letter in which he said he has reformed. Unmarried, he has a 5-year-old daughter, he wrote.
"I am suffering for all this years lost from life from 26-32 years," he wrote. "I will like to see my daughter. I have learn a lot in prison. I will ... come back in the society and give the best of me."
If the way Herrina filched two rings from the Diamont Noir jewelry shop at The Breakers hotel in April 2001, was typical of how he operated, he was as smooth as a perfect pearl. Here's how Palm Beach police — who worked with the FBI and Interpol — say he did it:
Wearing a navy blue double-breasted suit, white shirt, violet tie and carrying a black alligator-type wallet, Herrina walked into the shop with a buxom blonde wearing a low-cut, off- the-shoulder blouse.
He asked to see a ring in the display case, and the blonde tried it on, then returned it to Stephanie Halimi, the store owner's daughter. Herrina then asked if Halimi had something bigger for his wife, explaining that the blonde was his girlfriend.
Herrina was shown a larger ring. He asked to speak to Halimii in a back office. Then he asked to see the box for the ring. Next, he asked to speak to employee John Goodkin, saying he preferred to do business with a man, because he was Arab.
Herrina put five 100-dollar bills on a counter and said he wanted to buy both rings — one for his wife, one for his girlfriend. The larger ring was a platinum, 9.15 carat, cushion cut diamond, flanked with two half-moon shaped diamonds. Retail value: $1.06 million.
The smaller ring was set in 18 carat yellow gold and platinum, with an 11 carat, fancy yellow pear-shaped diamond, flanked with two pear-shaped clear diamonds. Retail value: $441,140.
Herrina told Goodkin that he would return to purchase the rings after he went to lunch. Goodkin thought he watched Herrina place the rings back in a black velvet box, which was placed in a safe. He asked Goodkin not to show the rings to anybody else.
As Goodkin was about to close the store at 7 p.m., the "Arab" and the blonde had not returned. He went to the safe and discovered both rings were missing.
Police believe Herrina and his friend scammed a Boca Raton jeweler out of a $130,000 bracelet the same day, and were thwarted by a second jeweler in that city. The next day they were trying the same ruse at Cartier and Christian Dior shops in New York City, they say.
Now Herrina is headed to a Florida state prison, but maybe not for long. He still has charges pending in Orange County, California, which has the right to grab him immediately, said his Miami attorney, David Seltzer. If convicted there, he could serve his sentence in California, Seltzer said.
As part of Herrina's plea deal on Thursday, he was ordered to pay $1.5 million, plus $846 in court costs. But Judge Colton told Herrina that once he finishes his U.S. prison sentence, he likely will be deported — he still must serve a two-year sentence in France — and barred from returning here.
"There's no way of enforcing those judgments," Seltzer said.