An exterminator from Bridgeport admitted to taking valuable stones out of some customers' valuable rings in Stamford, Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan and replacing them with worthless glass.
George Lawrence, 42, of 156 Wake St., pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree larceny and a single count of second-degree larceny during a brief court hearing at state Superior Court in Stamford on Tuesday.
Lawrence, who is freed on $75,000 bond, will return to court for sentencing March 19, where he will receive a three- to five-year prison term and agree to pay any expenses to the victims to replace their jewels, Judge Bruce Hudock said.
The seeds for Lawrence's arrest were sown during a chance meeting in fall 2011, when Property Crimes Sgt. Pete diSpagna was talking to Darien police Lt. Ronald Bussell and his detectives about odd crimes that seemed unsolvable.
diSpagna recounted the story about a Westover Road woman in North Stamford who called police a month or so earlier to report that her $17,000 diamond in her ring was missing. She told police an exterminator was working in her house when she realized that her 1.5 karat diamond solitaire ring vanished in September 2011.
She asked the exterminator to help her find it and he discovered the ring behind her night table. She noticed that the ring was sticky when the man handed it to her, but she was so relieved to have found the valuable ring that she immediately put it away for safekeeping.
A short time later, her husband noticed the prongs holding the stone were bent and broken and when she brought the ring to a jeweler, he told her the stone was worthless.
Bussell told diSpagna that a Darien woman reported in late spring 2011 that someone switched the 2 karat pear-shaped $30,000 diamond in her ring. She mentioned to police that an exterminator had been to her house a few days earlier and police had talked to Lawrence, who claimed not to know anything about the ring or diamond.
Police quickly determined that Lawrence was the exterminator involved in the Westover Road incident.
With the help of police in Stamford and Darien, Greenwich police arrested Lawrence for the theft of a $10,000 diamond from a Thunder Mountain Road residence. Lawrence was also working on that house on Dec. 29, 2011 when the stone was stolen and replaced with a fake.
In January 2012, Lawrence was arrested after a New Canaan woman reported that Lawrence had been exterminating in her house when some diamonds in her rings had been swapped with cubic zirconia in July 2011.