Million-dollar jewelry theft ends in arrest of members of criminal organization

(from left to right) George Paun, Vasile Lacatus, Terca Ternovan, Stela Sava are facing mutiple...
(from left to right) George Paun, Vasile Lacatus, Terca Ternovan, Stela Sava are facing mutiple charges across the country.(Walton County Sheriff's Office)
Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 3:35 PM CDT
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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Four individuals believed to be connected to an organized crime network are in custody after deputies say they stole more than a million dollars in jewelry at a Walton County business.

On April 11, Walton County Sheriff’s Office investigated an incident of three individuals, two females and one male, entering a store on 30A, and stealing multiple pieces of jewelry with a value of over a million dollars. Deputies say the three then left in a black SUV.

A WCSO investigator who responded to the scene said they immediately recognized the suspects from a previous case in Dec. 2022 where a Rolex was stolen from a Miramar Beach jeweler. The same individuals were reportedly persons of interest.

A week after the 30A theft, officials say the black SUV in question was abandoned at a business on Serenoa Road in Santa Rosa Beach.

A woman told investigators she had given three people a ride from the area, who claimed their car had broken down.

One of the suspects had used his phone to talk to her after she dropped them off. All three allegedly matched the description of the suspects.

WCSO investigators say the phone was tracked to a New York Police Department Detective, with the assistance of a retired NYPD cop who works with the agency.

Detectives with NYPD, as well as an officer in the United Kingdom, told deputies the group was part of a Romanian criminal network with more than 1,400 members in the United States with warrants in more than half a dozen states.

The suspects were identified as 31-year-old George Paun, 26-year-old Stela Sava, 31-year-old Terca Tarnovan, and 27-year-old Vasile Lacatus, who were all Romanian nationals.

On Monday, the phone belonging to Vasile led officials to a home in St. Charles, Missouri. All four were located and arrested, and charged with grand theft, grand theft in concert with one or more persons for the Rolex theft in 2022.

Sava, Tarnovan, and Lacatus also have warrants for grand theft, grand theft in concert with one more person for the merchandise stolen for the 30A store.

According to deputies, additional jurisdictions across the country are continuing their investigations into these suspects including the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and multiple state and local agencies.