A South Ozone Park man was arrested Friday, Jan. 20, and charged in connection with a brazen armed robbery in broad daylight at the Queens Center mall on New Year’s Eve, in which he allegedly made off with around a quarter-million dollars worth of jewelry, according to federal prosecutors.
Fernando Frias was taken into custody by federal agents on Jan. 20 after they executed a court-authorized search of his home on Centreville Street. Frias made an initial appearance in Brooklyn federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ramon Reyes, who ordered him detained.
According to the complaint, Farias was dropped off at the Queens Center mall in Elmhurst by the driver of a white work van who waited nearby as Frias entered the Zales jewelry store located at 90-15 Queens Blvd. just before 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 31. He approached a sales clerk and asked to see a diamond ring in a display case.
As the store employee opened the glass display case, Frias allegedly pulled out a black handgun from his waistband and pointed it at the store clerk who then backed away from the display case. Frias allegedly jumped over the counter and began shoveling approximately $250,000 of jewelry into a bag, according to prosecutors. The incident was captured on video surveillance from inside the store, which shows Frias wearing distinctive clothing including a light-colored hoodie with a large orange square image on the back, camouflage pants, gray and white sneakers, a mask and orange gloves.
An FBI special agent said Frias was later identified by an NYPD detective who was familiar with the defendant following his arrest on three felony theft-related incidents in February. The detective arrested Frias himself following a Feb. 24 robbery, and he was a person of interest in nearly 20 crimes over a one-year period, according to the FBI agent.
The court-authorized search warrant was executed by federal agents on Jan. 17 and the distinctive clothing was recovered. Frias was not home at the time because he was arrested earlier that day by the NYPD Warrants Squad in connection to two other larceny-related incidents in Queens. At the time of his arrest by the NYPD, Frias attempted to climb out a window and escape, but he was grabbed. Federal agents investigating the Queens Center mall jewel heist went to a Queens precinct to confront Frias on the armed robbery at the Zales store and he allegedly stated that if he had stolen $300,000, he would have been in Ecuador, according to U.S. Attorney Breon Peace.
In a detention letter to Judge Reyes, Peace noted the preponderance of physical evidence and video surveillance of Frias journey in the white van from leaving his apartment, getting dropped off at Queens Center mall, inside the store and getting dropped off back at his home, where he can be seen tucking the bag into his waistband before heading into his apartment.
“The video surveillance of the armed robbery reveals that the defendant pointed a gun straight at a Zales sales clerk, threatening her life and that of her equally defenseless co-worker, and he made off, at gunpoint, with a trove of jewelry,” Peace wrote. “Customers were walking the grounds of the mall before, during and after the robbery unaware of the armed man — the defendant — in their midst, and unaware of the dangerous potential consequences had any part of the defendant’s plan gone awry.”
Frias was subsequently arraigned on two felony complaints in Queens Criminal Court, charging him with several counts of grand larceny, robbery and criminal mischief. In a robbery at a T-Mobile store where he allegedly stole thousands of dollars worth of cellphones and threatened a store employee. He was granted supervised release on those charges only to be re-arrested before his release from custody in connection with another outstanding larceny-related incident in Brooklyn. In that case, Frias was charged with petit larceny and released on his own recognizance, and at that point, he was taken into federal custody for the armed heist at the Queens Center mall.
“The crime charged in this case are extremely serious,” Peace wrote. “The Queens Center mall, particularly around the holiday, is a highly trafficked attraction for citizens, and a place of employment for many. Through his criminal conduct, the defendant put the lives of customers, employees and residents in the surrounding area in grave danger.”
Frias is awaiting arraignment in Brooklyn federal court.