Duo charged in fall robbery of Belaggio Jewelers

Jeffrey Harrison and Daniel Watson didn’t mess around when they robbed Belaggio Jewelers in the Northeast last November, authorities say.

Based on victim accounts and surveillance video of the heist, police believe that Harrison and Watson burst into the shop at 2115 Cottman Ave. with pistols drawn, herded three employees into a rear storage room, snatched some $200,000 worth of merchandise from display cases and took off on foot, running for a car they had parked nearby.

But Harrison, 56, and Watson, 44 — who have been described by one Philadelphia police investigator as seasoned ex-convicts — couldn’t manage to escape for good.

Police and FBI agents arrested both men last month following a lengthy investigation into a rash of armed robberies at a variety of businesses, most of them in the city’s Northwest section.

According to Lt. George McClay of Northwest Detectives, members of his unit, along with members of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force, captured Harrison on Feb. 16 at his residence on the 3800 block of N. Darien St. They caught Watson on Feb. 21 at his residence on the 5200 block of N. 16th St.

Both men have extensive criminal records, McClay said. Watson previously served time in federal prison for a Hobbs Act robbery conviction. The dates of his incarceration were not immediately available.

Harrison has dozens of prior arrests, the detective supervisor added. According to court records, Harrison was first arrested in Philadelphia in 1972, at age 16, in connection with a couple of auto thefts. Both cases were dismissed later that year.

Since then, he’s been charged in connection with six drug possession and/or drug dealing cases, as well as two robbery cases and a retail theft. He beat all of those raps but one, a 2003 drug possession conviction for which he was sentenced to probation.

Nonetheless, Harrison has at least 12 distinct aliases listed on his Philadelphia rap sheet.

Both men have been charged with numerous offenses in connection with the Nov. 4 jewelry store heist. Police have also identified Harrison as a culprit in the robberies of four Radio Shack stores, a Beneficial Bank branch, a Rite-Aid and a Cash Well check-cashing agency between Jan. 19, 2011, and Feb. 8, 2012.

A third man, John Townsend, 30, of the 300 block of W. Mount Pleasant Ave., is accused of teaming with Harrison on the four Radio Shack and one Rite-Aid robberies. He was arrested on Feb. 10.

Police have not recovered the $200,000 in missing jewelry from the Belaggio Jewelers heist, McClay said. The three store employees, an off-duty police officer who witnessed a portion of the crime and a neighbor of one of the alleged robbers helped police to identify and locate Harrison and Watson.

The suspects exposed their faces during the heist, which was filmed by the store’s surveillance cameras. Police released the footage publicly soon after the robbery in hope of generating leads.

The crime occurred at about 4:50 p.m. No patrons were in the shop at the time. No gunshots were fired. No injuries were reported.

Harrison alone also is accused of robbing the Beneficial Bank at 5301 Chew Ave. on Jan. 19, 2011; and the Cash Well at 5812 Old York Road last June 17.

Townsend and Harrison are accused jointly of robbing Radio Shack stores at 1200 Welsh Road in Montgomery Township (Feb. 8, 2011), 39 E. City Ave. in Lower Merion (Dec. 19), 7723 Crittenden Ave. (Dec. 26) and 101 E. Olney Ave. (Dec. 28); as well as the Rite-Aid at 8243 Stenton Ave. on Feb. 8.

Watson is in jail in lieu of $1 million bail. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on March 8. Harrison and Townsend each remain in jail in lieu of $300,000 bail and are scheduled for an April 19 preliminary hearing. ••