LAKE PLACID - If someone had been inside Central Pawnshop on Christmas Eve in 2008, they would have probably heard the pitter patter of feet on the roof.
But it wasn't Santa Claus and his reindeer, or even a local burglar, who cut through the roof that night and stole $400,000 worth of jewelry and cash, and were later linked to dozens of other such burglaries in pawnshops from Miami north to Baltimore.
"We were in tears," recalled Andy Olson, who owned the business at the time and continues to be the owner. "We thought we were going to have to close."
Within the last week, the case was wrapped up in court for seven of the eight suspects in the case. One, Osvaldo Cruz, remains a fugitive.
Prison sentences ranged from 2 1/2 to years for Maykel Roque to 35 years for Yenier Cardentey. The burglars, who were all tried in Clay County, also were ordered $7.3 million in restitution, but Olson said he doesn't expect to receive a dime.
Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler, who investigated the case as a police officer at the time, said the eight suspects cut into the roofs of pawnshops and jewelry businesses in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Maryland.
"They would pick businesses that had a flat roof and they would cut a hole," Fansler said.
Shoe impressions and other evidence linked the eight suspects in the other burglaries to the Lake Placid burglary, Fansler said. Arrests began a year after the Lake Placid burglary.
"I would have never believed it would become that big," he said of the case. By the end of the investigation, more than 20 law enforcement agencies were involved, Fansler added.
Olson said he provided police with audio and video of the burglars, who work ski masks.
Two other burglaries occurred at pawnshops in Sebring where the burglars cut through the roof, but evidence was lacking at the time to connect those crimes with burglars in the other cases, Fansler said.
Olson said that Fansler told him about one of the burglaries in Sebring. Initially, he said, he thought the burglary in Sebring must be an "inside job," because he found it hard to believe the burglars wouldn't trigger an alarm.
But, he said, after hearing about the burglary, he installed alarms and sensors near the ceiling. Still, he said, to his amazement the burglars did not trigger the alarms.
It was only after someone on Christmas Day saw the back door open that the burglary was discovered, he said.
Olson said he was very concerned about the theft of the jewelry since some of it had special meaning to the owners.
The suspects in the Lake Placid burglary were all from South Florida, Fansler said.
He said some of the biggest theft cases, including an ATM stolen in 2006 and at least $1,000 stolen from Walgreens more recently, involved thieves from South Florida.
Some come "thinking they are dealing with small-town cops who aren't well educated and because of that they think they can get away with more stuff here," Fansler said.