Federal authorities announced Monday the arrest of six men accused of making off with $18.9 million in a daring armed takeover of the Dunbar armored truck depot in Los Angeles in 1997.
The FBI forensics lab in Washington was credited with a major breakthrough in the case, tracing a small plastic taillight lens found at the crime scene to a rented truck used to cart off the loot.
The mastermind was identified as a Dunbar security guard, fired just one day before the Sept. 13, 1997, holdup.
Prosecutors said Allen Pace III, 30, recruited the five other defendants and provided them with a floor plan and a key to the Dunbar depot on Mateo Street, along with radio headsets that enabled them to talk to each other during the robbery.
Wearing ski masks and armed with handguns and a shotgun, the bandits roughed up several employees inside the depot and tied them up with duct tape, but no shots were fired.
Police officials called it one of the biggest cash robberies in local crime annals. The Dunbar company, based in Baltimore, and Lloyd’s of London posted a $125,000 reward for information leading to the robbers’ arrest and conviction.
Most of the stolen money was in $20 bills destined for automated teller machines across the city.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Alka Sagar said Monday that FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents have traced about $4 million of the loot, which was used to buy homes and automobiles and to set up a business front through which money was laundered.
The defendants also dropped a few hundred thousand dollars at the gambling tables in Las Vegas, she said.
But the bulk of the stolen cash is still missing. The FBI and IRS issued a plea for help in finding the money.
Pace, of Compton, and co-defendants Thomas Lee Johnson, 27, of Las Vegas; Freddie Lynn McCrary Jr., 29, of Arleta; Terry Wayne Brown Sr., 37, of Los Angeles; and Erik Damon Boyd, 29, of Buena Park, are scheduled to go on trial May 25. They are being held without bail.
They are each charged with conspiracy to commit the robbery, using a gun during a crime of violence and interfering with interstate commerce, crimes punishable by up to 45 years in prison. Johnson faces an additional 24 counts of money laundering.
The sixth defendant, Eugene Lamar Hill Jr., 33, of Bellflower, pleaded guilty last Dec. 22 to conspiracy, using a gun during a crime and income tax evasion. He is to be sentenced in July.
FBI agents traced Hill to a rented U-Haul truck used by the bandits to cart off the money.
After the robbery, investigators searching the loading dock area at the Dunbar depot found a plastic taillight lens that did not belong to any company vehicles. The FBI forensics lab in Washington was able to match the lens to those used on 14-foot-long U-Haul trucks.
But the lead was of little use until an FBI informant named Hill as a possible suspect. FBI agents discovered in short order that Hill had rented a 14-foot U-Haul truck a day before the robbery and returned it a day later.
When he was arrested in September, Sagar said, Hill still had in his possession a stack of bills bearing the same money wrappers as those taken in the Dunbar robbery.
The prosecutor said Hill confessed and named the others. Sagar said the defendants used straw buyers to acquire at least 10 homes during public auctions of foreclosed properties. Some of the houses were rented out while others were occupied by the suspects’ families, she said.
She said IRS agents traced about $2 million to a company established by Hill and Johnson to launder the stolen money. Operating under the name of Rain Forest, the pair used most of the $2 million to buy an incinerator that purportedly burns trash without causing air pollution, and paid themselves a salary totaling more than $100,000, she said.