Guilty pleas in robbery of $500,000 watch at Beverly Hills eatery

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 12, 2021: Dominick Rivetti, right, Interim Beverly Hills Police Chief, takes a reporter's question while discussing the arrest of 3 gang members in the armed robbery at a popular Beverly Hills restaurant on March 4, 2021, where a $500,000 watch was stolen. In background left is Matthew Moon, Special Agent in charge of the criminal division, FBI, Los Angeles and in background, center is Marc Coopwood, Beverly Hills Assistant Chief of Police. Press conference was held outside of Beverly Hills City Hall. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Beverly Hills Police Chief Dominick Rivetti, right, speaks at a news conference about the arrest of 3 gang members in the armed robbery at a popular Beverly Hills restaurant on March 4. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Two men pleaded guilty Wednesday to participating in an armed robbery at a Beverly Hills restaurant of a diner's $500,000 watch during which a woman was shot.

Malik Lamont Powell, 21, and 18-year-old Khai McGhee, who is also known as Cameron Smith, admitted during a hearing in federal court to being part of a group of five men who carried out the holdup in March on the patio of Il Pastaio on Canon Drive. They each pleaded guilty to three felony robbery and weapons charges.

A third member of the group, Marquise Anthony Gardon, 41, pleaded guilty last week in the case.

Authorities identified the three men in court papers as members of a South Los Angeles gang, the Rollin' 30s Crips. The two remaining suspects have not been publicly identified and are still being sought by authorities. The exorbitantly priced watch, made by Richard Mille, has yet to be recovered despite a $50,000 reward offered by the owner, according to investigators.

The men drove to Beverly Hills on the afternoon of March 4 with the intention of pulling off a robbery, according to court documents filed by prosecutors that detail how the crime unfolded.

After scouting for potential victims in the city's famously ritzy shopping district, they keyed in on jeweler Shay Belhassen, who was wearing a Richard Mille wristwatch while eating lunch on the Italian eatery's patio.

Powell, McGhee and one of the other men in the group approached Belhassen, and Powell stuck a gun to his head telling him, "Give it to me," according to the court documents. McGhee and the third man, who is not identified in court documents, then yanked the watch off the jeweler's wrist.

Belhassen grabbed the gun, and during the ensuing struggle, Powell fired it twice. One of the shots hit a woman sitting nearby in the leg.

The men fled with the watch, leaving behind the black 9-millimeter handgun. Joining Gardon and another unidentified man, who were waiting nearby in a black BMW, the men escaped. The BMW was owned by Powell, according to court papers.

Investigators connected the men to the robbery through various pieces of evidence. A bloodstain on Belhassen's shirt matched McGhee's DNA, according to an FBI agent's court statement. Security camera footage from the area showed Gardon getting out of the back seat of the BMW and taking the driver's seat, the agent said. And cellphone data showed Powell was in the area at the time of the robbery, according to the FBI.

After the robbery, Belhassen told The Times that he doubts whoever has the watch will try to sell it anytime soon, in part because of the attention paid to the theft.

“It’s a very rare watch, so whoever is going to be offered it is going to know they are being offered stolen stuff,” he said.

U. S. District Judge John F. Walter is scheduled to sentence Powell and McGhee on Feb. 14, while Gardon faces sentencing Nov. 29.

Because a weapon was fired during the robbery, the men face a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and could be sentenced to as much as life behind bars.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.