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My Roommate, The Diamond Thief

I was becoming frantic. Craving more answers, I turned to his laptop, handing it over to a systems-administrator friend to circumvent his password protection by installing a new operating system. The sign-in name added yet another entry to the growing list of pseudonyms: Dino Smith. There, among various pictures of Don and his family, flyers for a business venture offering tours of the Bay Area in a Hummer, and a poster offering his services as a “personnel assisitant,” was the following diary entry, dated April 27, 2003:

I’m @ location 4. It’s been how many days now? Lets count from the 14th-15-16-17-18-19-20-21-22-23-24-25-26-27> 13 days today, dam, two weeks tomorrow . . . how the hell do I prove I was not there? When I truly was not there? Who the hells going to believe me. I can’t even get up on the witness stand, When those fuckers are going to do everything they can not to lose this case . . . I won’t sit up in jail for who knows how long and I know I’ve been set up by those no good fucking cops that I know don’t like me.

My hands started to shake. Had I been harboring a fugitive? Don had struck me as creepy, but I wasn’t prepared for this. My heart raced as I wondered what crime the cops could possibly want him for. I thought about the break-in, his absences, the dead sister, the fingerprinting . . . but what did it all add up to? Was he a victim of circumstance—or a serial killer? Was I his next target? I became obsessed with getting answers. Then I searched the most obvious place of all: Google. I typed in the name “Dino Smith,” and a couple of clicks later, there it was. His mug shot, on the America’s Most Wanted Website. He was a suspect in the biggest jewel heist in San Francisco history. I gaped at the screen in disbelief, then ran in circles, howling obscenities: “Fuck fuck fucking shit fuck fucker! Holy FUCK!”

I burned with shame and anger as I pictured him listening for me to leave for work in the morning so he could methodically search my trash.

I scanned the Web for more clues, cringing at each revelation. According to the Los Angeles Times, one night in April 2003, Dino, his brother Devin “Troy” Smith, and accomplices allegedly broke into a vacant restaurant adjoining Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry, burrowed through the wall, disabled the motion detectors, and hid in the bathroom overnight. When the employees arrived in the morning, the thieves forced them to empty the safes at gunpoint, then tied them up. The robbers hauled away $6 million to $10 million worth of diamonds and other jewelry in garbage bags. Four months after the heist, “Don” the ghostwriter moved in with me.

He’d been eluding the cops for fourteen months when he was captured on June 4, just a few days after I had last seen him. The police finally caught up with him outside the A subway station at Howard Beach–JFK Airport, where they had followed a girlfriend who’d flown in from the West Coast to visit him.

Dino and his brother had served time before. They were a notorious crime duo despised by cops and prosecutors for their slick arrogance and flamboyance. Known for his acrobatic robbery style, Dino reportedly escaped the police by using a handcuff key he’d hidden in the seam of his underwear. Between them, Dino and Troy had generated 20,000 pages’ worth of court documents, according to the L.A. Times.

In 1990, the brothers were arrested, and later convicted, for a foiled plot to kidnap and rob Lawrence Lin, also known as Dr. Winkie, the eccentric owner of the San Francisco nightclub DV8. (Wearing body armor and carrying semi-automatic rifles at the time of their arrest, the two improbably told cops they were on the way to protect Lin.) They were also convicted for a 1989 robbery in which they stole $400,000 worth of jewelry from the home of Victoria Magana, the widow of a Nicaraguan drug lord. This time, they told police she staged the theft herself to avoid payment on a $500,000 drug debt.

All told, Dino had 47 years to serve, and Troy 42. But they were sprung after less than a decade when both convictions were overturned, one because of attorney misconduct, the other thanks to police misconduct.

After their 1998 release, the brothers tried—and failed—to go straight. A brief stint as seamen for merchant ships at the Port of Oakland ended badly when the Coast Guard realized they’d lied about their criminal past on the applications, the Times reported. Troy fell deep into debt, and his marriage was falling apart. His wife claimed he had punched her in the face and had allegedly threatened that if she tried to leave, “I’ll make what O.J. did to Nicole look like a paper cut,” according to the paper.