By Joseph J. Kolb
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - The prime suspect in a $1.3 million jewel heist during a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at a fashionable New Mexico plaza a week ago has been identified and was on probation for committing a similar crime last year, police said on Friday.
A judge has issued an arrest warrant for Luis Villalba Boca-Negra, 45, in connection with the audacious Nov. 27 theft of the jewelry from a boutique in the Santa Fe plaza, said Santa Fe Police Detective Abe Maes.
Authorities say Boca-Negra was arrested in October 2014 for stealing a $35,000 ring from a store five doors down from the shop hit last Friday. He pleaded guilty to that theft and was on probation at the time of last week's heist, Maes said.
"Mr. Boca-Negra is from Colombia via Florida, but we do not know where he currently resides," the detective said, adding that police are also following leads on possible accomplices.
Investigators say security cameras recorded the thief peering into the front windows of the Divas Diamonds and Jewels store during the ceremony, which draws hundreds of visitors to the historic Santa Fe plaza every year.
Police believe Boca-Negra and possibly two accomplices had visited the boutique previously and asked to see jewelry. The theft took place while store employees were distracted by the crowds and the ceremony, police say.
(Reporting by Joseph J. Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and James Dalgleish)