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Armored Car Firm Robbed of $8 Million at N.Y. Terminal; May Be Record Holdup

Times Staff Writer

Four armed, ski-masked gunmen battered down two walls with sledgehammers to enter a Wells Fargo terminal in Lower Manhattan on Monday, surprising and disarming four guards and escaping with $8 million in cash that they loaded aboard one of the company’s armored trucks.

The theft, possibly the largest cash robbery in U.S. history, could have been even larger: The robbers left about $12 million in cash behind at the facility. “Maybe they got tired of carrying,” Chief of Detectives Richard Nicastro said.

The robbery is overshadowed only by the $11.2 million that disappeared from the Sentry Armored Courier Co. in the Bronx in December, 1982. Three men are in jail for that robbery, but only $960,000 has been recovered, and investigators say that some of the missing money may have been previously embezzled.

The Wells Fargo armored truck was discovered later Monday on a lot near the Brooklyn Bridge. Police theorized that the cash was probably transferred into other vehicles near the bridge. An empty tan money bag was inside the truck, and detectives found that the lock on the rear door was cracked. A set of keys also was found next to the vehicle.

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Holdup Called Professional

Investigators said that the holdup was carried out with professional precision. Wells Fargo security cameras videotaped the operation, but the gunmen’s faces were hidden by their masks.

No guard was on duty Sunday afternoon when the robbers broke into a neighboring warehouse and then smashed into the terminal building, Nicastro said.

At 1:50 a.m. Monday, four employees arrived at the terminal. Two of the workers searched the structure, but missed the robbers. As the vault was being opened to prepare for the day’s business, the gunmen struck.

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The employees were told that they would not be hurt if they cooperated, and they were handcuffed to a forklift truck after their revolvers were confiscated.

“It (the money) was all stacked up and ready to go,” Nicastro said. He said it took about 15 minutes to transfer about 100 bags of cash to the armored car.

The robbers temporarily freed one of the workers and ordered him to start the armored truck and open the loading dock’s doors so that they could leave with the cash in the truck.

Between 40 and 45 in Age

Robert Johnston, the Police Department’s chief of operations, described the robbers as between 40 and 45 years old, and said that they were obviously professionals. Police learned of the crime when one of the handcuffed guards was able to reach a pay telephone after the robbers left.

Kenneth Walton, deputy director of the FBI’s New York office, said that the stolen cash included bills “of all different denomination--not traceable.”

The initial investigation by a joint task force of police and FBI agents focused on how the robbers knew the Wells Fargo terminal’s security system so well.

Wells Fargo, which transports cash for clients, stored the money in its vault pending the opening of banks on Monday. The security company is not related to San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank.

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The largest previous theft suffered by Wells Fargo was in September, 1983, when $7 million was stolen from a terminal in Hartford, Conn. Police and the FBI are still seeking Victor Manuel Gerena, a Wells Fargo security guard, in connection with that robbery.


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