EXCLUSIVE: Former UFC fighter Karl Roberson is accused of targeting a childhood friend in a home burglary and stealing more than $200,000 in “exotic jewelry and valuables.”
Ryan Leonard was about 18 years old when he met a then-14-year-old Roberson, as they were both from Neptune City, New Jersey. Leonard knew him as a “humble person that wanted to be a great superstar athlete.”
However, Leonard’s thoughts on Roberson quickly changed after what occurred on Dec. 26, 2022.
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Roberson, 32, was arrested on March 27 after police pulled him over in a vehicle that was connected to a burglary at Leonard’s Howell Township home the day after Christmas.
Authorities issued a press release that stated Roberson was being charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief as well possession of a controlled dangerous substance and “several weapons offenses.”
“During the search officers found a defaced .9mm handgun with an extended magazine, several packages of suspected ‘crack cocaine,’ marijuana and items related to the burglary,” authorities said.
A second man, Dathan Thompson, 32, was also arrested on March 27 following a police investigation. He was charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief and was arrested “without incident” at his home.
EX-UFC FIGHTER KARL ROBERSON ARRESTED IN CONNECTION TO $200K JEWELRY THEFT; HIT WITH WEAPONS, DRUG CHARGES
Leonard detailed to Fox News Digital how he believes Roberson and Thompson targeted him while he was just about finished building and setting up his home.
“We did before and after videos of the house that I directly sent to Karl…showing him the before and after thinking we’re on the same page,” Leonard explained. “We’re both from Neptune, both successful. Like ‘Hey man, check out the new digs.’
“He used those before and after videos to map out my house basically and know where the bedroom was. It shows the closet, the remodel, and he clearly knew I had jewelry because I wear it everywhere.”
Leonard is a U.S. Army veteran who is the founder and CEO of NJF Worldwide, a direct source manufacturing company that began as a clothing brand and has grown tremendously since he opened it 11 years ago. Leonard has been giving back to his Neptune community and more over the years and has always looked out for those close to him like Roberson, especially when he made the leap into UFC.
“Before I had a dime to my name I could barely afford this, but I made myself a pair of boxing gloves with my logo on it for a sample and I made him a pair of gloves with his nickname on it, ‘Baby K,’ to say, ‘Hey man, this is from me to you. I don’t want anything for this. This is just something I want you to have. I’m proud of you.’
“Did whatever I could to support him, and lo and behold, the day after Christmas he basically lined me up.”
Knowing Leonard well enough, he said Roberson was aware he had lots of jewelry and valuables in his house. Leonard said GPS data showed that Roberson had been by his house “five or six times back and forth” prior to the burglary.
The burglars waited for Leonard to leave his home before running across the street and through a neighbor’s yard before breaking into the house through the backyard door.
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In videos obtained by Fox News Digital, Roberson is allegedly the man in the brown jumpsuit.
Leonard had his $80,000 Presidential Rolex stolen along with “$60,000-plus” in Cuban chains and a $30,000 bracelet among other things. None of it has been recovered.
Leonard did, however, have cameras stationed in and outside his home, which caught the two men breaking and entering. Leonard said that Thompson’s pink shoes in the video gave him away, and helped authorities connect the dots.
“Same shoes were worn in a rap video,” Leonard said.
Thompson was later connected to Roberson, who Leonard said “he’s been around the country, around the world with him as his right-hand man.”
Once authorities came to Leonard saying Roberson was a primary suspect, though, he initially did not believe them because of his friendship. However, the video evidence changed his mind.
“The body language, everything. That’s what set it all off,” Leonard said about believing it was Roberson on video in his closet stealing his valuables. “We knew from that point on it was Karl just from the body language, the build. Knowing him for 19 years, the mannerism. The little trot that he did out of the closet. It was very similar to his UFC jog around the ring. Every little thing knowing someone for that long I kinda just picked it up from there.
“I couldn’t unsee it as much as I wanted to.”
If that was not enough, Leonard said Roberson had been liking and responding to his social media posts and tried to “blend in” when Leonard was sharing photos and video of the incident to spread the word about the burglary.
Roberson also visited Leonard’s shop to talk about possible branding less than a year ago.
“I built a whole logo for him, branded it, gave him tens of thousands of dollars worth of my time and consultation to build a brand for him, and he basically screwed me over with that too,” Leonard said.
While the value of his jewelry was a large amount, Leonard’s peace of mind is something he can’t put a price on. He suffers from PTSD following his days in the Army, when he was deployed to Iraq for over 400 days from 2009-10, and having someone break into his home has been tough.
Having it be someone he considered a friend makes it even worse.
“It’s not the same kid I grew up with. It’s not the same kid in those pictures,” Leonard told Fox News Digital. “I had no idea Karl has this other side of him and I’m very disappointed and feel betrayed.”
Police held Roberson for approximately “two to three weeks” before he was eventually released.
Roberson made his MMA debut in May 2015 and would climb the ranks before appearing on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in 2017. He beat Ryan Spann and earned himself a UFC contract.
Roberson went on to own a 9-6 record in UFC, but after losing his final four matches, his last in July 2022 to Kennedy Nzechukwu, he was no longer on the UFC roster.
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Roberson did not immediately respond to comment when asked by Fox News Digital.
Fox News’ Paulina Dedaj contributed to this report.