A Las Vegas man has been arrested in connection with six armed robberies and six burglaries in Durango, including the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry made by former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department arrested Brett Clinton Combs, 28, on Jan. 8 in Las Vegas. Authorities were tipped off that Combs planned to rob an armored truck that collects slot-machine coins, and police obtained a search warrant for his house before the heist.
After serving the search warrant, police discovered stolen property from thefts committed in Durango and New Mexico, including gold jewelry that had Campbell's trademark on it.
Two investigators for the Durango Police Department were sent to Las Vegas to identify evidence linking Combs to the crimes.
"We went to Vegas and actually had the opportunity to sort through all of the property that was confiscated from his residence," said Durango Police Capt. Micki Browning. "Between physical evidence and then interviews that we did with other people associated with him, we were able to link all of these cases together."
Combs is suspected of committing three armed robberies in Durango in 2005: One Sept. 3 at Cash Now, 107 W. 19th St.; another Oct. 3 at Subway Sandwiches & Salads near Wal-Mart; and the third Oct. 21, again at Cash Now.
He is suspected of three armed robberies in 2008: Sorrel Sky on Nov. 17, the Rabbit Hole on Dec. 7 and GameStop on Nov. 30.
Police are investigating whether Combs is connected to another armed robbery last year: the Check into Cash store in the Wal-Mart shopping center, which was robbed 13 minutes before Sorrel Sky was robbed Nov. 17. They also are investigating whether anyone else is connected to the crimes.
Browning said authorities have recovered 22 pieces of jewelry stolen from Sorrel Sky, with a value of more than $400,000. Combs is suspected of stealing more than 40 pieces of jewelry from Sorrel Sky, and the other pieces have not been located.
In an interview Thursday, Linda Campbell, Ben Night-horse Campbell's wife, said the former senator was pleasantly surprised to learn a good portion of his jewelry had been recovered. Campbell has fashioned jewelry for decades, especially after his Senate term that ended in 2005. He sold the jewelry at Sorrel Sky, his daughter's art gallery on Main Avenue.
The former senator feared his jewelry had been melted down or taken to Mexico, Linda Campbell said. He said he would rather see a drug lord wearing the jewelry than to learn it had been melted down, she said.
"He was totally excited and totally thought it was a miracle that they tracked it down, because he thought for sure it had been melted down or in Mexico or something," Campbell said. "It was devastating to him, because he had worked so hard over the last three years."
In addition to the armed robberies, Combs is suspected of committing six burglaries late last year in Durango: four at the Durango Suites and Salons on Dec. 1, one at AAA Travel and Advertising Innovations on Nov. 30, and one at Gandalf's on Dec. 27.
Cortez Police Department investigators also are preparing a warrant for Combs' arrest for allegedly robbing the Dollar Tree, said Angelia Herrmann, public information officer for the Cortez Police Department.
The Dollar Tree in the Cortez Wal-Mart shopping plaza was robbed at gunpoint just before 8 p.m. Nov. 9 by a man who escaped with an undetermined amount of cash.
The robber wore a bandana to cover his face, bound two female employees and left the store. The employees were not injured.
And police were investigating possible connections to other burglaries.
Combs, who has an extensive criminal history, has family in New Mexico and friends and acquaintances in Durango, Browning said.
He will face charges for violating probation and firearm violations in Las Vegas before facing extradition to Colorado.
In a news release, Durango Police Chief David Felice thanked the Las Vegas police department.
"The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was instrumental in recognizing the significance of the jewelry and alerting our agency, and we are grateful for their cooperation," Felice said.
Officer Bill Cassell, spokes-man for the Las Vegas police department, lauded the Durango Police Department for sending two of its detectives to assist with the investigation in Las Vegas.
The arrest was a significant event, even for Las Vegas, Cassell said. Several major news outlets covered the arrest in Nevada and California.
"It's a big deal to us because obviously we have a suspect who is using Las Vegas as a base of operation and committing crimes in other jurisdictions that we've identified and taken off the street," Cassell said. "We also have prevented who knows how much criminal activity from occurring in Las Vegas."
Combs was being held Wednesday in the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas without bail.
While no one was injured in any of the armed robberies, Browning said the crime spree unnerved residents and store clerks.
"Whenever you have an armed robbery, there is a possibility of physical violence," Browning said. "We are very happy to say that he is behind bars now and can no longer prey upon our community."
firstname.lastname@example.orgCortez Journal staff members contributed to this report.