Oaks watch thief will wind up doing time

CRIME SCENE—Keith Walton and his gang targeted expensive watches at Ben Bridge in The Oaks mall. Acornfile photo

CRIME SCENE—Keith Walton and his gang targeted expensive watches at Ben Bridge in The Oaks mall. Acorn file photo

Time has run out for the man behind a series of daytime smash-and-grab robberies in Southern California targeting high-end wristwatches.

Keith Walton, 47, of South Los Angeles, a senior member of the Inglewood Family Gangster Bloods, was sentenced this month to 55 years in federal prison for his role as ringleader of a crew that netted $6 million worth of Rolex and other high-end watches from jewelry stores in Thousand Oaks, Woodland Hills, Canoga Park and Malibu between August 2015 and April of this year.

At Walton’s Aug. 3 sentencing in Los Angeles federal court, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney said he factored in the nature of the thefts—carried out during the daytime in malls filled with shoppers—when rendering his judgment.

“(These crimes) terrified people and traumatized them for the rest of their lives,” Carney said.

During the gang’s robbery of the Ben Bridge Jeweler store at The Oaks mall on Feb. 7 this year, the sound of breaking glass caused some shoppers to suspect a shooting was taking place, leading to chaos. The Oaks robbery netted 35 Rolex watches with an approximate retail value of $298,000.

Walton is “likely the most dangerous, prolific and incorrigible criminal who has ever appeared before the court for sentencing,” prosecutors said in a memorandum filed with the court.

The gang leader was one of five men convicted for their roles in the heists following a five-week trial held in the summer of 2017. The verdict against one defendant has since been overturned in the court of appeals, but prosecutors are challenging that ruling, according to the release.

In Walton’s case, the jury convicted him of conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act—a federal law covering crimes that affect interstate or foreign commerce— by planning the jewelry store robberies as well as participating in three of the robberies, two of which involved firearms.

It was not the man’s first conviction: Walton’s extensive criminal record, prosecutors said, includes a 1995 federal conviction for participating in the armed robbery of a Texas drugstore.

“Walton is dangerous, violent and manipulative,” the prosecution’s memorandum states. “He knows little else but crime and violence.”