How five men pulled off the biggest cash robbery in American history.
On Feb 28, 2001, Allen Pace III, 30, of Compton, and his accomplices: Erik Damon Boyd, 29, of Buena Park, Freddie Lynn McCrary Jr., 30, of Arleta, Terry Wayne Brown Sr., 38, of Los Angeles, and Thomas Lee Johnson, 28, of Las Vegas, were all convicted of pulling off the largest cash heist in Los Angeles history in under 30 minutes. They obtained $18.9 million in cash from the Dunbar Armored truck depot in the downtown factory district of Los Angeles, California.
On September 13th, 1997 in a facility that is as tight as air, Pace and his bandits did the impossible. They wore ski masks and were armed with shotguns. They used meticulous planning to pull it off. And the detectives were duped just as much as the Dunbar employees, who had no idea who could have committed this robbery. The robbery was deemed a criminal masterpiece.
A task force of FBI and IRS agents were composed and teamed up with detectives from the Los Angeles police department to crack the case. It took years, but they finally realized how the robbers got in and out in less than 30 minutes. They suspected it was an inside job and all current and former employees of Dunbar were considered suspects. Those said employees were questioned and asked if they had any reason to believe who could be behind this and the name, “Allen Pace” kept coming up from the groups who were interviewed by detectives and agents.
Pace was revealed to be a former security employee of Dunbar and of the depot where the robbery took place. He worked there for a year and a half. He was the recent safety director for the company. He was deemed the mastermind behind the plot of how to rob the depot. He was viewed as a normal kind guy, had no criminal record, and grew up in a middle class family in Compton. He was known for his many pranks, which most of his co-workers loved, even at their own expense. Pace had no qualities that would make him seem as if he could ever do this. Which was the first step in his plot to rob the depot.
Pace recruited his childhood friends, who he could trust, that had no police records. They moonlighted doing bouncer jobs in various nightclubs in Los Angeles. This was a group that trusted one another and were as tight as the depot they robbed. They made a promise to each other that if anyone of them is arrested, they’d take the fall and not implicate the others. Pace was a leader of this group.
Pace conceived this to be a one-time robbery that would set them for life. He provided them with an exact diagram of the depot. He did his homework while working there. Without him, they wouldn’t have been able to capture the pictures of the facility from the outside and inside. He was able to capture the locations of the video cameras in the hallways so the others could visualize what the hallways and doorways would look like.
Pace lined the steps they had to take, avoided the cameras, took down the armed guards, gained control of the security command post, entered the vault, loaded the cash to the getaway car, and left all under 30 minutes time.
Pace had taken photos of the security guards thanks to his former position there. He and his boys knew all of the entrances and exits after driving by a few times, weeks before the robbery was to happen. On the day of September 12th, Pace got an unexpected call; Dunbar officials told him he was fired; they were tired of his pranks. And told him to turn in his keys the next day. For Pace, this robbery became now or never. He contacted his accomplices and said “we’re doing this tonight”. Following Pace’s instructions, the prosecutors said, the robbery team assembled at a house party in Long Beach, a ruse designed to establish their alibis.
After a few hours, they slipped away, changed into black clothing and masks, and drove to the Dunbar depot, where they entered through a side door shortly after midnight. Hill was instructed to rent a U-Haul truck. The group then entered the depot and faced their first hurdle, not being seen and this was made possible thanks to something Pace did weeks prior. He conned a fellow employee who owned a truck that had a television monitor. That truck was always parked in the same spot when the employee was working at Dunbar. The group hugged the wall when they came in and used Pace’s key to get inside. They also had codes, they never addressed each other by name, only by numbers.
Inside of the facility, the cameras panned. Pace carefully timed the intervals for when the cameras changed directions and they slid past undetected, one by one. They took turns crossing over in the hallway. Pace didn’t have the key to get into the vault, but his co-workers did. He knew his co-workers habits and planned the robbery around the time they took their lunch breaks. The robbers waited in the lunch room for the co-workers to go on their breaks and as soon as they did, they tied them up with duct tape and took the key to the vault prep room. The room was monitored by a camera they couldn’t dodge, so they decided to rush the two armed guards who were inside. They were tied down and told to look straight at the floor or their heads would be blown off. There was always a robber watching them. A red button was pressed and the U-Haul truck was brought inside of the depot, driven by one of the robbers.
Pace knew that the vault was always open on Friday nights, as the employees moved the cash inside of it that was needed for weekend shopping. The money in the vault was divided by delivery routes. Pace also knew which had the largest denomination of bills. He left the bills that were to be sent on routes with smaller bills untouched. They cherry picked the bills thanks to Pace’s knowledge of the routes. Pace also was careful not to take any new sequentially numbered bills that could be traced back to the robbery.
Every minute they were there was a risk, because at any moment a Dunbar truck or worse, the police could have arrived. They needed to handle one more thing though… They located the video recorders and took the VCR’s and tapes with them. One was located in a supervisor’s office, which was rather obvious. But the other was harder to find; it was found behind a back-office door that wasn’t stationed anywhere near the vault. It was behind a locked closet, in a locked cabinet. They found it thanks to information given to them from Pace’s ex-girlfriend, who worked at Dunbar prior. It was her job to change the tape in the backup recording system. She communicated this to him and that’s how he knew where it was located. The group then made their exit. No shots were fired. They successfully pulled off the largest cash heist in American history. $18.9 million dollars. The robbers drove to one defendant’s apartment, changed into dress clothes and returned to the party.
Investigators searched the Dunbar loading dock area after the robbery and found a plastic tail light 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.
The group had one big problem now. What were they to do with this money? They met up in a home in the Long Beach area and the original plan was to not begin spending money lavishly. However, their minds were elsewhere as they stored cash in trash bags. They had a challenge in figuring out how to use it but leave no trace. Each got $100K and Pace stored the rest in a Gardena storage facility. From the beginning, the FBI looked at Pace as he seemed to have had the best ability to commit the crime. The FBI looked up U-Haul rentals in the area under the name “Allen Pace”, but found nothing. They had no real physical evidence, so they put surveillance under Pace to see if he had any money and what he spent his money on, but Pace avoided incriminating himself and all contact with his accomplices and the money.
When the heat died down six months later, Pace hatched his plan to launder the money. He and his accomplices put down $1 million cash to pay for real estate properties in the Los Angeles area. Pace went out of his way to make sure none of his assets could be traced back to him and spent a lot of the stolen money in cash. Pace didn’t even have a bank account. He later realized that they had inadvertently taken sequentially numbered bills that could link them to the crime, therefore, he instructed two robbers to burn that money. The twosome discovered the money burned very slowly, so they decided to spend it in Las Vegas, where they learned that crisp dollar bills jam in the slot machines. They ended up tossing the money in washing machines to make it usable and gambled the night away. Months passed and the investigation went cold.
Pace bought office space and set up a new company called Extreme Entertainment. On the surface, it rented party equipment, jet skis and limos, but in reality it was a front to pay the crew big salaries with the stolen money. But what Pace didn’t realize was that Hill gave a middleman $100,000 to buy property, but failed to remove the cash straps. The middleman contacted authorities soon after discovering the straps. The FBI determined from the dates on the straps that they were on money that was taken on the night of the robbery. They began watching Hill and authorities subpoenaed his bank and phone records and tens of thousands of U-Haul records to link Hill with the U-Haul rental. They arrested him and he elected to assist with the investigation, admitting his involvement and named his accomplices. The FBI offered him a deal, which he took. Pace remained true to his word though, and refused to rat anyone out. The trial commenced in February of 2001 and the defendants who plead guilty were given seven and a half to eleven year sentences. Pace was found guilty and received a twenty-four year sentence. To this day, Allen Pace denies any involvement with the robbery. He suggested that he had been framed by one of the other defendants, “because I was messing with his wife”.
The task force was only ever able to recover about $5 million of the $18.9 million by way of the homes, cars, and other valuables they bought using the stolen money. “Unfortunately, despite their extraordinary efforts, over $10 million is still unaccounted for,” said U.S. Attorney Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “I encouraged anyone with information about these funds to contact the FBI.”
The rest of the stolen money was believed to have been squandered by the robbers at gambling tables in Las Vegas or burned by them because of the many bills that were sequentially numbered and easily traced.
U.S. District Judge Lourdes Baird read the verdicts aloud. The four accomplices who previously pleaded guilty, testified against the pair during the three-week trial, as did Boyd’s father, Steve Boyd, who told jurors that his son had confessed to him.
“Pace recruited the other defendants and provided them with a floor plan, photographs, and a key to the Dunbar depot on Mateo Street, along with radio headsets that enabled them to talk to each other”, said Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alka Sagar and Ruth C. Pinkel, who prosecuted the case.
Prosecutors said Steve Boyd laundered about $177,000 in cash for his son through his father’s business. Steve Boyd testified that his son initially told him the money came from a drug deal, but later admitted to him that it was stolen from the Dunbar Armored depot.
The jury deliberated three days before returning the guilty verdicts. Pace and Boyd were sentenced on April 23, 2001. Sentenced later were the other accomplices. To this day, the Dunbar Heist has gone down in history as being one of the most intricate, methodical, and brilliant cash robberies ever committed by an American citizen.