Real-Life 'Italian Job' Snags $20 Million in Jewels

Thieves in Italy robbed the Damiani headquarters during the Oscars.

ByABC News via logo
February 27, 2008, 8:48 AM

Feb. 27, 2008 — -- The Milan jewelry heist that brazen thieves committed as the world's focus was on the gem-wearing Oscar stars could have been ripped straight from a Hollywood script.

While the year's best in film were christened Sunday, robbers snatched $20 million in gems from Damiani headquarters, one of the most famous jewelry stores in the world.

The burglars dug a three-foot-wide tunnel into the store while the company's executives partied alongside A-list clients in Tinseltown.

The calculating crooks spent a month digging the tunnel, which began inside a cellar in an empty building next to the jewelry store. They took advantage of the ongoing construction in the area to avoid raising suspicions.

When the time came to pounce, the bandits used an internal staircase in the showroom to avoid the security cameras. The group of seven, which was disguised as police officers, restrained employees with cable ties and construction tape.

They then forced the store manager to open the safe deposit box in what seemed like a real-life "Italian Job." In that film a group plotted an elaborate jewel heist.

Italian police said they expect arrests "rather quickly."

"Run and spend as much as you can because it won't be long before the gates close on you," said Jack "Murph the Surf" Murphy, who pulled off America's biggest jewel heist in the 1960s. "The thing they don't show in the movies is, they don't show everybody doing a lot of time in prison."

Damiani didn't lose all of its jewels in the theft. Best supporting actress winner Tilda Swinton borrowed a bracelet and a ring from Damiani for the award show.