Tue, 21 Jan 2014

The Largest Bank Robbery in U.S. History: An Imperfect Crime

The bank robber as a fictional character is endlessly romanticized in films. Most times portrayed as criminal masterminds or charismatic manipulators like the infamous John Dillinger, people would expect the same out of their off-screen counterparts. But Hollywood's interpretation of crime is far from real life.

The largest bank robbery in U.S. History, the 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery in North Carolina, was imperfect and definitely not what you expect to see in the movies.

The Company

Banks attract people who are in desperate need for money and are willing to commit a crime. The Loomis, Fargo And Company was created partly to prevent that. They provided services like armored transportation, automatic teller machine maintenance, and cash handling.

The Mastermind And His Accomplices

David Scott Ghantt was a vault supervisor and armored car driver who had been working at Loomis Fargo for three years when he planned the crime. He had been involved in an extramarital affair with a former Loomis Fargo employee, Kelly Campbell. What began as innocent jokes regularly traded among co-workers about robbing Loomis Fargo slowly turned into a serious plan. Campell introduced Ghantt to an associate named Steve Chambers, a man with connections and a mind for crime.

The Heist

On the night of the crime, Ghantt dismissed the company trainee he was assigned to at around 6pm. Security footage showed him loading bricks of money - approximately $17 million - into the back of a company van and when he was done, he ran off with it. He met with Campbell, Chambers, and other gang members before driving off to a printing business in northwest Charlotte where they then divided the cash and placed them in private vehicles.

The original plan was for Ghantt to escape to Mexico with $50,000 and wait for things to cool down as they figured that the FBI would quickly connect him to the robbery. Chambers had other ideas, however. With the bulk of the money in his possession, he had no intention of sending Ghantt the cut that was promised to him. Chambers was also guilty of the crime of "murder for hire" since he plotted to have Ghantt killed to ensure that there wouldn't be any loose ends.

Where Everything Went Wrong

It could be said that the whole plan was shaky from conception to execution. These were not sophisticated robbers backed by experienced members or state-of-the-art equipment. There was a time that locals nicknamed this crime as "The Hillbilly Heist" since most of the perpetrators involved lived in small towns in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The crime was not thoroughly planned out. Upon discovery of the Loomis Fargo van, investigators found almost $3.3 million left behind. Ghantt and his accomplices didn't realize how bulky $17 million in small denominations actually is and had miscalculated their ability to transfer it all.

While the rest of the gang members were lying low and distancing themselves from the crime, Chambers and his wife, Michelle, did the exact opposite. They made one large purchase after another, moved to an extravagant house in Cramerton, and even bought a BMW Z3 with cash. Mrs. Chambers also made the mistake of making a large deposit at a bank and giving statements that caused the bank to fill out a "suspicious activity report" that reached the FBI.

The Arrest

In Mexico, Ghantt found his cash supply running precariously low. His initial extravagant spending had taken a toll so he decided to call Chambers to ask for more money. The latter sent only $8,000 but that call proved priceless for the FBI. Working with Mexican police, they traced Ghantt's phone call to Chambers and had enough evidence to arrest them and their accomplices. It was a crime that could have been one for the history books if only they had planned it better or maybe, just maybe, even consulted Hollywood.

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