Monday, August 4, 2008

Four Notable Bank Heists

Bank heists have always captured the imagination. Think about it: that's where all the money is. And most of it is insured, so you're not really ripping off the depositors. Many have planned the perfect heist, and most have been caught. These four bank heists give you some idea of the possible outcomes.

Air France Heist
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Year: 1967
Take: $420,000 ($2.6 million in today's money)

Lowdown: Air France carried large amounts of US currency into New York from France, where it had been exchanged by tourists and members of the US military for French currency. From the plane, it was taken in duffle bags to a strong room in a warehouse at the airport, before it was taken to its final destination. There was easy access to the warehouse, but the guard to the strong room kept the key on him at all times.

The thieves brought an expensive escort in on the operation to seduce the guard. (The escort operating, of course, out of Wildwood, New Jersey.) While he was otherwise occupied, the keys were stolen, copied, and returned.

On the appointed day, they walked into the warehouse, opened the door to the strong room and walked out with the money. There was no alarm, and the guard didn't notice. And they were never caught.

Dunbar Armored Heist
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Year: 1997
Take: $18.9 million (24.7 million in today's money)

Lowdown: This job was done with the precision that is usually associated with inside jobs. Because it was an inside job. A safety inspector learned the layout, security procedures, and timing of security cameras. He recruited a gang of his childhood friends and walked in, subduing one guard after another. They loaded the dough (and the security camera tapes) into a U-Haul and went off into the night. Most of the bills were non-sequential, but an accomplice accidentally let an associate see a stack of cash with the strap still around it. He was picked up and rolled on the others. While the gang is in the can on a 25-year ticket, $10 million is still unaccounted for.

Banco Central Heist
Location: Fortaleza, Ceará , Brazil
Year: 2005
Take: 164,775,150 reais ($69.8 million)

Lowdown: Some bank jobs just require two guys, some Richard Nixon masks, and a fast getaway car. This is not one of those. The Brazilian authorities have so far identified 43 suspects.

In this heist, the gang rented a house across the street from the bank. They turned the house into a business front. A landscaping business. Perhaps you can see where this is going. They tunneled 256 feet, under the road, to the vault of Banco Central. How did they hide almost 1400 cubic feet of dirt? They trucked it away in their landscaping vehicles. Once they reached the vault, they broke through 3.6 feet of steel-reinforced concrete and absconded with the loot. On top of the audacious criminality, I appreciate the logistics. They moved 7,700 pounds of money in a weekend. And the bank didn't notice until they opened on Monday. The story does not end well, as a surprising number of suspects have been found dead. However, $61 million still remains unaccounted for. Also, in this case the bank had not insured the money.

Agricultural Bank of China Heist
Location: Handan, Hebai, China
Year: 2007
Take: 51 million yuan ($6.7 million approx.)

Lowdown: The previous October, a bank manager, with the help of two guards, stole 200,000 yuan. Being the criminal mastermind he was, his plan was to invest in the money, and return the original 200,000 to the bank before anyone noticed. He then proceeded to buy 200,000 yuan worth of lottery tickets. Against he odds, his diabolical plan worked.

Being a criminal, however, he couldn't just be satisfied with his modest ill gotten gains. Teaming up with another manager, the two stole 33 million yuan over the course of two months the following spring. This time, lady luck was not in their corner. Having struck out at the lottery, and needing to come up with the money, they stole an additional 18 million. Learning from their mistakes, they spent it all on lottery tickets. This time they won. All of 98,000 yuan. 50,902,000 short of what they needed. Two days later, bank authorities noticed the missing money.

Our Chinese Butch and Sundance used their 98,000 bankroll to hit the trails, buying fake Ids and cars. (How hard can it be to disappear in a country of a billion people?) After being put on the Most Wanted list, one was picked up in Beijing, and the other was pinched in Lianyungang. Being China, they were sentenced to death. The only winners were three informants in Lianyungang who split a 200,000 yuan reward.

Bonus heist: NOKAS Heist
Year: 2004
Location: Stavanger, Jæren, Norway
Take: 57.4 million krone ($9.3 million)

Lowdown: Much is made of the differences between the US and Norway. This story illustrates this as much as any. Thirteen men stormed the NOKAS (Norsk Kontantservice) bank in Stavanger, commando-style. They had masks, body armor, and military rifles. To slow down the police they put a flaming truck outside the police parking garage. In the course of their heist, they killed a police officer who was on duty. He was the first Norwegian police officer killed in the line of duty in over six years, and only the seventh to die in the line of duty in the post-war period. When the gang was finally brought to justice, the thirteen received a total of 181 years in prison, although none received the Norwegian maximum, twenty-one years.

What do we learn from all this? That crime doesn't pay, especially in China. And don't enter into a criminal conspiracy with 43 other guys, some of whom would rather have you dead than turn state's evidence.

(All factual information courtesy of Wikipedia.)

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