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Accused driver in botched jewel heist arraigned in federal court

The accused driver of the getaway car in the botched 2011 robbery of the London Jewelers in Manhasset was held without bail Thursday at arraignment in federal court in Central Islip, officials said.

Samuel Cephas, 33, of Brooklyn was the last of six people police suspected of taking part in the botched robbery of almost $1 million in rare watches from the store in the Americana Mall, according to officials.

In fleeing with Nassau police in pursuit, Cephas rammed into a Nassau police car, disabling that vehicle; then stopped short of a police roadblock on the Long Island Expressway and fled into the grounds of the nearby Lake Success Golf course, according to a complaint filed by Eastern District federal prosecutors Grace Cucchissi and Lara Treinis Gatz.

Police arrested Cephas attempting to hide on the golf course, Cucchissi and Gatz said.

Cephas had been held in the Nassau County jail on state robbery charges since his arrest, according to the prosecutors.

Cephas was not required to plead to a federal charge of conspiracy to interfere with interstate commerce by robbery,

His attorney, Marianne Rantala, of Commack, said she was new to the case and could not comment.

The robbers entered the jewelry store in October wearing masks and armed with handguns and a sledgehammer, the prosecutors said.

They held employees and customers at gunpoint, smashed open a display case and took 35 Rolexes valued at $800,000, and also stole two Breitling watches worth about $8,000 from a customer before fleeing, the prosecutors said.

The watches were recovered near the scene.

Two of the accused robbers were arraigned at the federal court in Central Islip in January and await trial. Three of the robbers have been convicted in state court and sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

Conviction on federal charges could lead to a sentence of up to life in prison.

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