Officials are seeking the extradition of a serial jewel thief to Arizona after police said he stole more than $55,000 from a Phoenix-area business while still on probation for a conviction in the 2016 theft of a diamond ring from a downtown Westerly jewelry store.
Robert Petrino, 60, of South Boston, was taken into custody as a fugitive from justice last week by detectives with the Massachusetts State Police. The agency said Petrino, who has a long history as a jewel thief, including a recent conviction in Rhode Island, was wanted in connection with a June incident involving an Arizona business.
According to Massachusetts court records, Petrino was arraigned before a judge in Essex County Superior Court on Thursday and waived his right to challenge extradition during the brief hearing. He was ordered held without bail at Middleton Jail until Arizona authorities are able to take custody of him.
Records show Petrino, who was supervised by a probation officer as part of his release following a January 2017 conviction, will also face charges of violation of probation stemming in Rhode Island.
Details of the Arizona case were limited — court records indicated the charges were part of an ongoing investigation into the $55,000 theft — but included aspects of Petrino’s modus operandi, which has been to pose as a customer interested in a specific piece of jewelry, then distracting the clerk long enough to steal something and take off.
Police said in the Arizona investigation, much like in the Westerly investigation, Petrino was caught on camera conducting the theft while wearing the exact same pair of madras shorts.
For Westerly police, who ended up charging Petrino with one count of larceny over $1,500 following a several-month investigation into a September 2016 theft of a diamond ring from the Westerly Jewelry Co. on High Street, the latest charges were a source of frustration.
“I had gotten a text from one of the agents we had worked with in Boston when he was arrested again,” said Westerly Police Capt. Shawn Lacey, who initially spoke on behalf of the department following Petrino’s arrest in Rhode Island. “It’s frustrating; you use so many resources to bring charges in a case like this, only to hear he not only was let out, but is doing it again six months later.”
Lacey said he could not comment on the active case.
Petrino was identified by Westerly police in connection with a September 2016 theft of a diamond ring valued at $7,400 after a multi-agency investigation that crossed state lanes. According to police, video surveillance and help from the public led the agency to identify him, and Lacey said the department got a break when a Wrentham, Mass., police officer contacted the department to report that he was familiar with Petrino, who was on the Rhode Island Most Wanted list in December 2016.
Police in Massachusetts worked with Westerly officers and staged outside Petrino’s home during the holidays, but he was able to elude arrest and eventually turned himself over to authorities on Jan. 4, 2017, after his attorney in that case — William J. Murphy of Providence, who served as speaker of the Rhode Island House from 2003 to 2010 — contacted police to notify them that Petrino knew he was wanted and would turn himself in.
After turning himself over, Petrino and Murphy immediately called for an expedited hearing, and he pled nolo contendere during a second hearing at Washington Superior Court later that same day. Although issued a two-year prison sentence, Petrino served no time and was instead given a two-year probation period and ordered to pay court fees, as well as restitution for the cost of the ring.
The Arizona charges are also just the latest in a growing list of criminal convictions nationwide for Petrino over the past two decades. He was issued a suspended sentence in 2006 for conviction in the theft of $23,000 in jewelry from a Peabody store and has since been convicted in multiple cases throughout eastern Massachusetts.
He's also been charged or convicted in connection with similar crimes in states including Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Minnesota and Kansas, as well as on federal charges in New York.
Petrino will appear in Arizona court to face the latest charge, “as soon as possible,” according to court officials. He is also scheduled to take part in a status conference before a judge at Suffolk Superior Court on March 28 if able to do so, court records show.