TAMPA (FOX 13) - Hillsborough County deputies began returning a treasure trove of stolen items to their owners Friday, after announcing the arrest of a suspected serial jewelry thief.
Gilberto Vazquez, 45, is accused of breaking into at least 30 homes in Carrollwood, Citrus Park and Westchase and stealing about 1,500 pieces of jewelry and other collectible items totaling more than $500,000.
During an afternoon news conference, investigators said Vazquez committed his crimes by breaking into homes through sliding glass doors that were either unlocked or pried open.
"This suspect was smart. He targeted homes with jewelry, small electronics, safes, coins, a number of collectible items," said Chief Deputy Donna Lusczynski. "In this case, there were no fingerprints due to him wearing gloves, but we do a swab for DNA in these types of cases, which was particularly helpful in this one."
Following the announcement of the arrest, deputies allowed theft victims to scour tables covered with the recovered stolen jewelry.
Some people found what they were looking for, while others were brought to tears by what they couldn't find.
"I'm thrilled to see these pieces. These are pieces that I've collected over the years. Some of them are more sentimental than others," said a woman named Joanne who asked to keep her last name private; she recovered her rosary. "My wedding ring was in the same room and my wedding ring is gone, so at least I have this rosary to remember that special day between me and my husband."
"I just hoped that I'd have had something," said Tita Rogers, who had hundreds of pieces of jewelry stolen but didn't find any of it recovered Friday. "We're talking 50 years of jewelry that I had. And you know what they put it in to take it out? My Bible cover. He took the Bible cover off my Bible in my bedroom, threw it on the floor and put the jewels all in there and left. Now, what kind of a sick person does that?"
Investigators used DNA evidence connect the crimes to Vazquez and they tracked him to Massachusetts, where police arrested him.
Hillsborough deputies want theft victims to try to determine if any of the recovered items belong to them. They're urged to call 813-247-0330 and ask for Detective Gaither.