A young man returns home from the army and gets a surprising offer from his emotionally distant father: Join the family business and help mom & pop pull off a string of daring cross-country heists. No one expects the betrayals coming.
Editor’s note: Some names have been changed for privacy or protection.
Somewhere between stealing $4 million dollars, a multi-state trail of credit card fraud, and years of FBI scrutiny, the relationship between father and son had soured. Now, a courtroom of lawyers and spectators watched it dissolve over a proffered drink.
“Let me ask you, if I poured you a glass of water and brought it up there, would you drink it?” Archie Moretti asked his son, who was sitting on the witness stand.
“No,” Vincent Moretti replied.
“Because I don’t trust you.”
It was March 2013, and father and son were facing off in a courtroom in Portland, Oregon. Vincent’s mother, Marian, sat in the courtroom. Her white hair was pinned behind ears and she wore matronly glasses. She watched as Vincent’s father, the man whose respect had once meant more to him than anything else in the world, cross-examined him. Archie resembled a balding, life-hardened version of Mr. Rogers with a stern military bearing leftover from his service in the Vietnam War. Vincent was softer, seemingly more open and sensitive, despite a muscular build. In happier times he had a disarming smile. He wasn’t smiling now.
“You think the judge is going to let me bring poison, you think these marshals are going to let me bring poison into the courtroom?” Archie persisted. “I’m in jail. Let me pour you a glass of water and bring it up there.” Archie addressed the judge: “May I, Your Honor?”
“No. That’s absurd,” the judge responded.
Against the repeated advice of the court over several months of testimony, Archie was representing himself in a case that would decide whether he would spend the remainder of his life behind bars. His son Vincent was the prosecution’s star witness, the key to pinning nearly two decades of outlandish heists and assorted crimes — the family business, you might say — on his back. Archie’s only hope was to cast doubt on his son’s sanity.
“Do you believe it’s possible for me to bring poison into this courtroom and poison you in front of the judge and the Government? Do you think that’s possible?”
“No, but I also don’t want to take anything from your hand either,” Vincent answered.
“Why? If it’s not possible for me to poison you, surrounded by marshals and the Government and a federal judge, what have you to fear?”
“It’s not about fear.”
“What is it about?”
“I don’t trust you and I don’t want anything more to do with you,” Vincent told his father.
It was the sanest thing he could have said.
The family drama unfolding in the courtroom was the consequence of a series of incredible events that began in Wisconsin in 1995. Vincent couldn’t have known how that fateful day would shatter his family and cast a cloud over the rest of his life. He was 22-years-old that summer and had just returned home on leave from the Army, where he served as a paratrooper. He and his dad weren’t close, so it meant something when his father asked him to go for a walk after dinner one evening. Vincent’s older brother Anthony had always been the family favorite. Now that Vincent was an adult, he had all but given up on having a loving relationship with his dad.
Milwaukee was in the middle of a hot summer, and heat rose up from the pavement and warmed the evening air. Archie was silent for a time, and Vincent could tell his father had something important to say. Eventually, the old man started talking and explained that something had happened at the armored car company where he worked as a driver. Some money had gone missing from a truck — around $150,000 — and the FBI was looking into its disappearance.
Silence descended again. A few moments later, Archie turned to his son. He had stolen the money, he confessed.
Vincent was stunned. He knew his father was no saint, but their family was average by most Wisconsin standards and, he believed, law abiding. He had an especially hard time imagining his demure and soft-spoken mother living off stolen money. The revelation was a bombshell, as was the measure of trust his father had just shown him. Before Vincent could finish processing, Archie added something that seemed almost too outrageous to make heads or tails of: He wanted to do it again, and this time he wanted his youngest son’s help.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Have you had any psychiatric care in the past year?
VINCENT MORETTI: I’ve seen a counselor at the VA, but it’s a licensed therapeutic counselor. It’s not a psychiatric. It’s not a psychiatrist.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Whose idea was it to do that?
VINCENT MORETTI: It was nobody’s idea. Someone said I should go talk with someone, so —
ARCHIE MORETTI: “Someone said.” Well, who?
VINCENT MORETTI: I don’t recall who.
ARCHIE MORETTI You don’t recall who?
VINCENT MORETTI: No.
With a clearer view of family history, Vincent might not have been so surprised by his father’s confession.
A former Marine who served in Vietnam, Archie had always been rough around the edges but devilishly clever. After the war, then 21, he had gone home to Chicago, where he grew up, and married the love of his life, a pretty 16-year-old girl named Marian. They had two sons, Vincent and his older brother Anthony. But Archie was possessed by a sense that life owed him more than it had given thus far, and he refused to settle down. Instead, he threw himself into money-making schemes, including selling marijuana and heroin. Marian didn’t stand in his way. Archie had saved her from a difficult childhood with an abusive and heroin-addicted father. When she became pregnant with their first child, her mother disowned her. Archie stuck by her side, and she never forgot it.
Not that Archie gave her much of a choice in the matter. He could be sweet, but he insisted on making the decisions in the family, and objections were met with anger.
A bitter dispute between Archie and his own brother, his partner in crime, prompted the family to move to Wisconsin, where for a time Marian and the children used false names and lived off stolen money. The boys were still too young to understand what was going on, but the turmoil was hard on Marian and things at home were strained. She was left alone with Vincent and Anthony for long stretches while Archie hustled for money. Sometimes he left cash for groceries, other times he took Marian’s jewelry and hawked it. She didn’t have the will to stop him. “I didn’t have a choice,” she later remembered.
After a few more stabs at crime, including a successful armored car heist in 1978, the Morettis settled into a quieter life. With an eighth-grade education, Marian had always managed to find piecemeal employment at coffee shops or drugstores, and now Archie went looking for respectable work, too. Eventually he landed a job as, of all things, an armored car driver for Dunbar Armored Express. His transgressions had flown under the radar, and his new workplace had no idea of his past. There, every day for years, he quietly watched millions of dollars pass before his eyes while bringing home slightly better than minimum wage.
Old habits die hard. Archie grew frustrated with the long hours and lack of respect, and especially with the financial crunch he and his family felt at the end of every month when his paycheck ran out. He was a smart man, even if he lacked formal education, and a smart man should be able to make it big in America if he worked hard enough. The corner offices of Wall Street were closed to a man of his station, but a major windfall was just an arm’s length away in the back of his truck. Eventually, Archie began dreaming up plans to get his hands on some of the money.
He would need help. He approached his brother, with whom he’d had the falling out years earlier. But bad blood coursed between them. Archie raged about his brother’s pettiness to his wife, Marian. Timid and slightly cowed whenever her husband got so worked up, she made a joke to lighten the mood: “I’ll do it.”
Archie laughed. But then he got to thinking.
On August 4, 1995, Archie went to work and was paired for the day with two inexperienced employees, Tom Derfus and Janice McLeod. The new employees worked as hoppers, Dunbar Armored Express’ term for workers responsible for loading and unloading money at route stops. Around lunchtime, Archie drove his armored truck to a scheduled pickup at a First Star Bank. McLeod hopped off and went inside to get the cash while Derfus took a smoke break around the corner and out of sight of the truck. With both hoppers otherwise occupied, Archie saw his chance and turned on the emergency blinkers.
Nearby, Marian took a deep breath. She’d been following the truck in the family car for the past few days awaiting Archie’s signal. The moment she’d been anxiously rehearsing in her head had finally arrived.
Dunbar protocol dictated that drivers could not go anywhere with the truck while a pickup or drop-off was in progress. Nevertheless, Archie put the vehicle into gear and drove around to the loading area in back of the bank. Marian followed and parked to the left of Archie’s truck. She rolled down the passenger-side window, and Archie heaved in a bag containing $157,839 dollars in cash. Marian quickly put the bag inside a black sports duffel and then drove off. As planned, she went straight to the safe deposit box they had rented for this purpose. Then she went home. Once there, exhilaration and fear collided. She broke down and cried.
With the transfer made, Archie drove the truck back to the front of First Star Bank. When Derfus and McLeod returned, they found the truck where they had left it and had no inkling what had happened. The three-person crew spent the remaining afternoon completing their route. It wasn’t until they returned to the Dunbar vault to unload and take inventory that the missing money was noticed. No one assumed the worst right away. It wasn’t uncommon for some money to slide unseen into nooks and crannies in the cavernous truck. After a thorough search turned up nothing, however, Dunbar managers called the Milwaukee Police Department and FBI, and Archie, Derfus, and McLeod immediately became suspects. The team was separated and each member interviewed alone.
The logistics of the theft were one thing, facing the full force of FBI scrutiny another. But Archie had anticipated this. The movies got it all wrong. Real criminals invariably got tripped up plotting the perfect crime when all they really needed was one that was impossible to prosecute without a confession. There were no witnesses to the Morettis’ first family heist, nothing to definitively point the finger at Archie. All he had to do was stay calm and avoid the sand traps of a prolonged interrogation.
And he did. The agents investigating the crime had every reason to suspect he was involved, but they couldn’t prove a thing. For his trouble, Archie and Marian were $150,000 richer. For Marian, the bigger joy might have been the broad grin on her husband’s face when he came home. For a moment, at least, the family was celebrating.
Following the success, Archie began to think bigger. His plans were just taking shape when Vincent came home from the Army on leave.
ARCHIE MORETTI: This counselor you’re seeing, Vince, has this counselor prescribed any medications?
VINCENT MORETTI: No. She’s not even authorized to prescribe any medications.
ARCHIE MORETTI: So you’re not on any medication?
VINCENT MORETTI: No.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Are you able to go to restaurants these days?
VINCENT MORETTI: Huh? I’ve been to restaurants, yes.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Do you ever go to a restaurant twice in a row?
VINCENT MORETTI: Sometimes.
ARCHIE MORETTI: You do?
VINCENT MORETTI: Yeah.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Isn’t there a possibility that someone may poison you once you’ve been there a couple of times?
MR. EDMONDS: Objection, argumentative.
THE COURT: Sustained.
Vincent, now 23, with pitch black hair and well-deep dark brown eyes inherited from his parents, ended his military career with an honorable discharge from the Army and returned to Milwaukee with a staggering choice to make.
The night his father brought him into his deepest confidences, Vincent’s world shifted on its axis. Ever since, he had been uncertain what to do. He could run fast and far, disavow his parents. He could also pretend he didn’t know what he now knew. But something about the family history — the real family history — seemed to reframe his whole identity almost overnight. The truth was his whole family had existed on the edge of criminality for decades, and maybe that’s who he was, as well. Vincent had seen enough of life to know that these things were never clear cut. Learning to kill in the army certainly put him on an ethical tightrope, and the stakes there were much higher. The kinds of crimes his father was talking about really only hurt large corporations, and the money could do an awful lot to help his family — and, yes, himself — in ways he never dreamed. It was thrilling, terrifying. He had made his decision.
Suspicion still swirled around Archie, so Vincent would have to be the inside man on the next heist. The first step was finding a job that would give him access to vulnerable cash in large quantities. Archie scoured classifieds and took the lead seeking out promising opportunities, which Vincent dutifully applied for. There were a few dead ends, but in early 1998 he submitted an application for a position with American Security Corporations, an armored car company that serviced ATM machines throughout the greater Milwaukee area and had recently opened a new distribution center. Archie did some recon and found out that the ASC employee conducting job interviews was ex-military. He prompted Vincent that his Army background would give him an edge in the interview. As Archie predicted, the interviewer took a liking to Vincent, who was promptly hired on as a shipping and receiving clerk in the company vault, which was located on the basement level of a multistory commercial building.
Working on a small team, Vincent’s job was to prepare containers known as cassettes, which had to be filled with $20-dollar bills. Once prepared, the cassettes would be stacked on a cart, transported through a service hallway, put into a freight elevator, and loaded into the armored trucks waiting in the back alley early each morning en route to hundreds of ATM machines across the city.
Vincent took to the job easily, working hard and remaining as inconspicuous as possible. He talked with colleagues as necessary, and occasionally after work he socialized at a bar called Señor Frog’s next door. He was always careful to guard his personal details, though after a few drinks he loosened up a bit and flirted with local girls. He was in his twenties, and a double life carries a secret agent thrill.
At home, eager to impress his father, Vincent shared his idea for how the theft could play out. His plan was to pretend to lock up the office at the end of the night but leave the vault and a back-alley door unlocked. Then he’d go next door to Señor Frog’s, have a drink, and give himself an alibi. In the meantime, Archie would slip in from the back alley, make his way to the backdoor of the vault office, and swipe the money.
Vincent was proud of the plan, but Archie waved it away. He liked to do things his way, and he barked at Vincent to leave the planning to him. The rejection stung, but Vincent was a member of a team. He was there to do the job, and he put his trust in the chain of command and his father’s confidence.
And there was no shortage of confidence from Archie. One night, out to sushi with his family, he asked Vincent and Marian to raise their glasses. “To a new renaissance,” he toasted.
Marian raised a glass and smiled, but she had been plagued by a gnawing doubt since first learning Archie had asked Vincent to join in another heist. She feared the scheme could turn out badly. Her fear was powerful enough that early on in the planning phase she had vocally objected — something she had never done with Archie. If he had to commit another crime, she asked, would he please do it alone and not involve Vincent?
Archie ignored her, and Marian’s conviction faltered. She had tried her best, but her husband wielded a psychological power over her. She had spent her life putting her trust in him, and it was a hard pattern to break. Out to dinner, and in spite of deep reservations, she raised her glass to her husband’s toast.
On the evening of July 13, 1998, Vincent was working the closing shift with a long-time employee named Karen Busch. The closing procedures for ASC mandated that the vault had to be sealed and locked by two people. Once the heavy door was closed, a dial in the door needed to be spun several times to ensure it was properly closed. All of this was supposed to be done with a second person supervising. But given how late the job could go some nights, it wasn’t uncommon for employees to skirt the rules. Occasionally, one person would offer to close alone so their co-worker could get home.
That evening, Vincent casually made the offer to Busch, whom he knew had a family waiting at home. The offer would have seemed especially generous given that there was additional clean-up to do. There had been a party for a departing employee that day and a large cooler full of melted ice needed to be dumped out.
As if to leave no doubt in her mind, Vincent slammed the vault door in front of her. She accepted and signed the paperwork confirming the vault was locked, even though no one had spun the dial. When she was ready to leave, Vincent escorted Busch up a stairwell that led from the office to the street. He’d never walked her out before, and the gesture struck her as odd. When she arrived on street level, Vincent said goodbye and headed back downstairs.
“Something isn’t right,” she thought, though her mind didn’t leap to criminal suspicion or sketch the outlines of the plan that was already underway. Vincent’s behavior simply struck her as odd, almost anxious.
Downstairs, Vincent hesitated, as if standing on the edge of a precipice. Stepping into it would mean no turning back. To initiate the plan, Vincent would have to take a literal step. There was a patch of floor right next to the vault that was visible from street level through a glass window. Nearby, cloaked in shadow, Archie was peering through the window, waiting. It was up to Vincent to step forward and give the signal.
Vincent took the step. He glanced up and saw his father waiting on the sidewalk looking in at him.
Outside, Archie leapt into action. He walked to the alley where his car was parked and changed clothes. Fifteen minutes later, he entered the ASC office through a rear door that Vincent had left ajar for him. Archie came in wearing a hat and a false beard. He pointed a semi-automatic pistol at Vincent. “Freeze!” he yelled in his most menacing voice. He planned to steal the security footage along with the loot, but there was always a chance he’d miss a camera, and the armed robbery had to be convincing.
Archie ordered Vincent to get on the ground on his stomach. Then he opened the vault, which Vincent had never locked, and handcuffed his son’s hands to its interior gate. Working quickly, Archie helped himself to the stacks of cash. Just as they rehearsed, father and son didn’t say a word to each other while he worked.
Vincent was expecting to be “rescued” sometime after 9 PM. According to company protocol, when the last employees left the vault office they were supposed to set an alarm. If they didn’t, another alarm would sound to indicate something had gone wrong with the closing procedure.
For reasons that remain unclear, the second alarm was never triggered. Vincent, handcuffed and sprawled on the chilly concrete floor, wasn’t found until 5 AM. Throughout those long hours he reminded himself that lofty ambitions require sacrifice, channeling his father’s voice to make the maxim seem convincing. What’s one bad night’s sleep in exchange for a better life?
Vincent was found by coworkers the next day. According to company protocol, the FBI was immediately called in. Now Vincent faced the same crucial moment Archie had in 1995. He’d been able to fool Karen Busch — at least he thought he had — but what about the FBI?
Archie had carefully coached him for this moment. During interviews with authorities, Vincent recited the story his father had fed him: Seconds after Vincent had let Busch out, the thief slipped in the still-open door and put a gun to his head. The man then made him re-open the day gate, handcuffed him to it, robbed the vault, and left. Vincent described the thief as a 20 to 30-year-old white male, 200 pounds, roughly 5’10” and sporting black hair. He also had been wearing a fake beard, a backwards-turned baseball cap, and round glasses that were tinted yellow.
Vincent gave his statement at the scene of the crime and in interviews with detectives and the FBI later. Like his father in 1995, he stuck to his story and did his best to stay calm. He summoned his training as a paratrooper to steady his nerves. Like his father, Vincent was able to return home several hours later, though suspicion swirled around him.
Following the robbery, Archie didn’t return home for two days, a precaution in case he was being followed. When he did, he met Vincent’s curious stare with a smile. Then he grabbed a piece of paper, wrote down a number, and showed it to his son.
Together, they had stolen $765,000 dollars.
The haul was massive, but expectations of the high life quickly evaporated for Vincent.
Instead of his promised half of the heist to spend as he liked, he was given a can of Barbasol shaving cream. Inside the disguised container was Vincent’s money — but not all of it. Archie had strict rules for how the family could spend the ill-gotten gains: “Don’t buy big purchases, don’t make a scene, don’t spend money in a way that would draw attention.” Archie expected those rules to be followed by the whole family, no exceptions.
When Vincent burned through the few thousand dollars his father gave him, he handed over his shaving can and asked Archie for more. His father would drive out to the safety deposit box and refill it. The chump change installments were infuriating. Archie’s rules also dampened the real prize of the heist for Vincent: His father’s trust in him. Now that they had the money, it was clear Archie still thought of his 25-year-old son as a child. Vincent, who had left the army and given up any momentum on a legitimation career, was now financially dependent on his father — so much so that when Archie decided it was time to uproot and move to Portland, Oregon, Vincent had no choice but to follow.
For Archie, a man who had waited his whole life for his due, the next big payday couldn’t come soon enough. Another heist was never far from his mind, and this time he was dreaming bigger than before.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Do you recall your family members asking you to take a blood test, to seek psychiatric care or seek counseling of any kind, therapy of any kind? Do you recall that?
VINCENT MORETTI: You called me crazy all the time for thinking that —
ARCHIE MORETTI: Actually —
VINCENT MORETTI: Wait for my answer. You called me crazy all the time for thinking that my family was poisoning me. So of course you would follow that up with that.
ARCHIE MORETTI: What I’m trying to get at here is someone asked you to see a counselor, and you don’t know who that was?
THE COURT: You’ve asked that three times now. That’s all you get, no more. Go on to another question.
It was Archie’s turn to be the inside man. The family had picked up piecemeal work in Portland to maintain the illusion of normalcy, but as his next plan took shape, Archie quit a well-paying job with DHL and in March 2005 accepted a lower-paying position with Oregon Armored Services, another armored truck company. His firing by Dunbar Armored Express in 1995 should have been a red flag for any prospective employer, but Archie got lucky and the background check process was delayed.
He hit a roadblock, however, when he was paired with an experienced employee named Sarah Thornton. He would have none of the wiggle room a green colleague could provide. The money from the last heist was beginning to dwindle, but for an inside man time and patience isn’t wasted. Archie studied routes and company procedures, kept his eye out for weaknesses. He began to formulate a plan.
Once more, Vincent’s role was critical. He would be responsible for taking the stolen money from the truck and bringing it to Archie’s rented safety deposit box in Bellevue, Washington. Considering how closely Archie guarded access to the safety deposit box, the plan signaled a growing trust in his son. The two of them took a couple of father and son road trips to Bellevue so Vincent could familiarize himself with the route. The drive afforded plenty of time to discuss Archie’s plan.
Vincent was to park his 1990 Mustang every Monday to Friday, around noon, in a spot near Ladd’s Addition in Southeast Portland. He was given a Tracfone prepaid mobile phone and told to wait for a go ahead call. Sometimes Archie would call to say it wasn’t going to happen that day, but usually he wouldn’t. Vincent would wait around until it became clear there was no action, then leave. Archie even told Vincent what to wear: Not the jeans, T-shirts, and hoodies he preferred, but a nice shirt, nice pants, and a tie.
Vincent dutifully stood vigil every weekday for six months.
Late in 2005, their patience paid off: Sarah Thornton was promoted. In early December, Archie was teamed with an inexperienced hopper named Tim Holsten who didn’t know protocols well, nor how much flexibility was allowed on a route. Holsten was green and would gladly follow the veteran driver’s lead.
The planned route on December 6 started with a five-to-ten-minute stop at the U.S. Bank in downtown Portland before proceeding to the Federal Reserve depository a few miles away in Southeast Portland to offload the bank’s cash. When Archie and Holsten arrived at the U.S. Bank in the early afternoon, a cube-shaped plexiglass box filled with money was waiting, as were two shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills.
The combined total was $7,855,000 dollars.
Archie and Holsten left at 1:45 PM and were due at the Federal Reserve no later than 2 PM. Instead, Archie drove them to a Multnomah County building, a stop that was supposed to happen much later in the afternoon. Holsten likely didn’t notice. When they arrived, Archie instructed his partner to hop out, go through the building’s security, take the elevator to the second floor, and pick up the money that would be waiting there. As soon as Holsten disappeared into the building, Archie drove off and called Vincent.
Heart pumping hard in his chest, Vincent pulled into a pre-arranged location a few blocks away from the Multnomah County building. The vacant lot was surrounded by a fence that would conceal the handoff.
Archie’s armored truck pulled in a minute later. Archie hit a button on the vehicle’s dashboard that opened an entrance behind the passenger door, and Vincent climbed into the back with two duffle bags. He grabbed the two shrink-wrapped bricks of cash, which contained $1.5 million each, and Archie’s Tracfone, which his father handed him through an opening in the truck’s chained bulkhead door. Vincent hopped out of the vehicle, put the bags into the backseat of his Mustang, and left. He drove to an Enterprise Rental Car office near a Fred Meyer Supermarket, rented an SUV, and left his 1990 Mustang behind. Then he drove the route Archie had shown him, stopping halfway in Centralia, Washington, where he rented a motel room for the night.
The next morning, Vincent got up early and paid for the room from part of the previous afternoon’s massive take. He drove to a shopping center, parked his rental car, and hopped on a local bus, arriving at The Safe Deposit Center at 9:03 AM.
Inside the private room, Vincent looked at the $3 million dollars, as well as the remaining cash from the 1998 theft. A vivid memory floated back to him, long concealed in a locked corner of his mind. He was playing in the basement of the family house in Wisconsin, just a small boy, when he uncovered several thick bundles of $20-dollar bills. The discovery confused him. He’d asked his father for money a few days earlier, but Archie answered they didn’t have any. In a childlike way, Vincent took his father at face value and reasoned he must not have known about the stash. Grinning ear-to-ear, he walked one of the bundles to his father and said, “You got money now.” But the old man didn’t react the way Vincent hoped. He scowled and grabbed the money from his son. Vincent never saw it again.
Standing in the private room with more than $3 million spread before him, Vincent had a long time to think. Trying to please his father had never worked. He could leave the old man’s $1.5 million share and take his own with him. There would be no more secret shaving cream cans, no more allowance. Vincent would be free to live how he wanted.
The plan unfurled in his mind. Then, dutifully, he stacked the money neatly in the box, took the bus back to his SUV, and made the three hour drive back to Portland, where he returned the rental car and drove home. The thought of betraying his family was too much.
The first officer on the scene was immediately suspicious of Archie. After parting with his son, he drove his truck several blocks east and parked in a residential area near a Vietnamese church and a cluster of small, one-storey homes. He swung open the driver’s door, climbed down, and handcuffed himself to it. Eventually, a local resident came along walking his dog, and Archie called out, “Hey, can you come over here?” He asked the dog owner to call 911.
Portland police officer Lisa Clayton was the first to arrive. Archie told Clayton he’d been parked waiting for his partner when a man approached the driver’s door, pointed a handgun at him, and told him to open up. Archie described the man as white, 40 years old, 5’10”, 180 pounds, wearing dark clothes and a fake beard. Archie recounted that he’d opened the door as instructed, after which the suspect had climbed over him to sit in the passenger’s seat. The thief ordered Archie to drive a few miles where they picked up an accomplice, also white, then drove another few miles to the present location, where the thieves handcuffed him to the open door and made off with the cash.
Officer Clayton surmised there were parts of Archie’s story that didn’t make much sense. She asked why he hadn’t just driven off when the thief arrived at his door. Archie explained that driving off would have meant depressing the emergency brake and putting the car into gear, and he was worried that would give the man enough time to shoot.
Clayton knew the doors of the armored car were resistant to handgun fire. She also found Archie oddly calm and ready with answers. Victims of crimes can react in a variety of ways, but she knew from experience that most people who have been held at gunpoint are left deeply shaken.
When the FBI arrived at the scene, Clayton shared her suspicions and told the agents they might want to keep an eye on Archie. The agents listened. Days later, the FBI showed up at the Moretti home with a search warrant. After a thorough search, the FBI found no money, though there was plenty of evidence that the family was spending more than they should have been able to. Agents seized 44 credit cards and 573 money order receipts stashed oddly around the house: on a computer desk, in a bread maker, wedged in weight belts. Inside one of Archie’s boots they found a stack of credit cards.
Throughout the search, Archie remained calm and stuck to his story, even through increasing scrutiny. It was like he was daring them to make their suspicions stick. In the days that followed, aware he was being watched, Archie went about his normal routines: taking a morning jog, playing the lottery at the local supermarket, and occasionally indulging in a cigar. He wagered from previous robberies that all the family had to was wait. In five years, the statute of limitations on the 2005 theft would run out. Then they could spend the money how they liked.
But for a middle-aged man looking forward to retirement in Florida, waiting was one thing. For a twentysomething waiting for his real life to start it was quite another. Tensions began to flare between Archie and Vincent during their long period of self-imposed purgatory. Vincent had gleaned tidbits about his father’s criminal past. He learned, for instance, that his father’s falling out with his own brother decades earlier had come on the heels of an attempt by Archie to cut his brother out of a big haul. With millions of dollars at stake and ample time to worry, Vincent began to grow paranoid.
By 2008, he had had enough. Confronting his father, he demanded control of his own share of the money. Archie refused, and the two began to fight. “I was going to leave and he wasn’t okay with that,” Vincent remembered.
With little else to do, he began to rebel. In 2009, he broke his father’s cardinal rule when he used some of the money his father gave him to buy a 2006 Hummer. Archie was furious. It was exactly the kind of attention-drawing purchase the FBI was waiting for. For Vincent, it was a necessary step toward independence.
Archie’s concern, it turned out, was justified.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Okay. Do you recall removing a pistol with a silencer from the house?
VINCENT MORETTI: No, I do not. There was no silenced pistol removed from the house.
ARCHIE MORETTI: That didn’t happen?
VINCENT MORETTI: No, it didn’t.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Okay. Now, remember that you’re under oath.
VINCENT MORETTI: I do remember that I’m under oath.
With no traction on building a case for the heists, the government began to look at the Moretti’s financial malfeasance. IRS criminal investigator Maranda Cole was given the task.
“If I were to commit this crime,” she asked herself, “how would I go about spending the money and not get caught?” She studied the Morettis’ bank accounts, legitimate sources of income, credit cards, and money order receipts.
Given the volume of information, it wasn’t an easy feat, nor a quick one to resolve, and the clock was ticking on the statute of limitations. Cole pieced together that the Morettis used credit cards to launder the stolen cash. Any card application that arrived in their mailbox was filled out, typically with their real names, but not real incomes. Over the years that followed, they’d claim their joint household income to be anywhere between $40,000 and $90,000, but on their federal tax returns the family tended to declare around $11,000 of income. The Morettis paid off their dozens of credit cards with money orders purchased with stolen cash. Below certain dollar amounts, money orders can be purchased without showing identification.
“When I was able to finally get the overall impression that they were spending more than they were earning, that was the big one.”
The money was coming from somewhere, and Cole had a high probability of confidence that the source was illegal, which would have to be enough given the ticking clock. On December 2, 2010, just shy of the five-year anniversary of their 2005 robbery, a federal grand jury issued a 51-count indictment of Archie, Vincent, and Marian Moretti. They were charged with making false statements on credit applications, conducting financial transactions concealing proceeds of a crime, money laundering, tax fraud, bank larceny, and possession of stolen bank funds. They were arrested and assigned court-appointed lawyers. After pleading not guilty, they were granted pre-trial release.
If FBI scrutiny had put pressure on the family, a pending trial was like a compression chamber. As a condition of their release, the Morettis were placed under house arrest and Vincent, who had long since moved into his own apartment, had to move into his parents’ three-bedroom home. Pent up together under a cloud of paranoia, Vincent started to suspect his father was trying to kill him. He would wake up startled, certain someone had come into his room at night while he slept. One evening, he set up a makeshift booby trap by resting a pair of shoes against the bedroom door. When he woke up, he found the shoes shifted. Vincent confronted Archie about it, but his father insisted he had no idea what his son was talking about.
Vincent began barricading himself into his room at night. He stopped taking food or drink from his family on the suspicion his father might try to poison him. It made a twisted sense in Vincent’s mind. A man who would betray his own brother to keep a bigger portion of the haul from a smash-and-grab job might be capable of anything to save his own hide. Vincent was a loose end, a liability that made a clean defense impossible. As if seeing clearly for the first time, Vincent realized his father did not have his best intentions in mind.
Locked in a hell he’d been complicit in designing, Vincent’s only escape was his computer. He spent hours in the fantasy world of a popular online role playing game, one whose actions and outcomes could be more predictably controlled than real life, and where the good and bad guys were more easily identified.
Archie didn’t mince words about his son’s behavior. He called Vincent crazy. He tried to convince him he had severe mental problems and recommended therapy. He was anxious: A paranoid man is unpredictable, and his son seemed paranoid. Vincent’s anxiety put Archie’s plan to patiently run out the statute of limitations and settle down with Marian to a life of leisure in Florida in jeopardy.
In Vincent’s mind, the stakes were higher. Staying with his family meant increasing isolation or, he was now convinced, even death. No video game could provide enough escapism to shake that persistent reality. The choice in 1995 to join the family business had now led, 16 years later, to the hardest decision he had ever made. He had to get out.
But how? Running straight into the face of a 51-count indictment wouldn’t be easy. The money would vanish along with any trace of family connection. No way would prosecutors let him skate without prison time. He’d probably have to pay back what he stole, and that restitution would hang around his neck for the rest of his natural life. And betraying his family would cost him something far dearer than money. However imperfect, his family was his only connection to anything larger than himself, his only support network. That would be gone if he flipped, his parents and brother lost to him. Not just lost: They would hate him. He would be alone in the ruins of his life.
On Friday, February 24, 2012, FBI Agent Kenneth O’Connor, U.S. Attorneys Claire Fay and Thomas Edmonds, and IRS’ Maranda Cole were working together to prepare for trial. At one point, Fay stepped out to check her messages.
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said when she walked back in. “Would you like to talk to Vincent Moretti?”
Vincent arrived that same day at the U.S. Attorney’s office. Over two days, he told them everything — his father’s unexpected proposal, his role participating in heists his father planned, and, crucially, where the money was hidden.
“He was, in a way, getting something off his chest,” Edmonds, the U.S. Attorney, would later recall.
The FBI booked Vincent into a motel room to protect its key witness. The government wasted no time re-arresting Marian and Archie and conducting another search of the home. This time, they knew exactly where to look. They found the secret money containers, including the shaving cream can, as well as two security box keys. One was hidden behind a light switch fixture, and another inside the leg of a walker.
The FBI and IRS traveled to The Safe Deposit Center and discovered a duffel bag with U.S. Bank money wrappers from 2005 and a carry-on suitcase filled with $100 bills still bundled in blue and red rubber bands. When it was all counted, the remainder of the Moretti’s haul totaled $1,994,600.
THE COURT: What does this got to do with his mental competency?
ARCHIE MORETTI: Well, because I think his legal representation has a lot to do with — whether he’s happy or surprised has to do with his mental competency, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Not even close. You want to show he has some psychiatric disorder that you allege that would have him be not competent to testify, and what arrangements he had with a lawyer doesn’t have anything to do with that.
ARCHIE MORETTI: Well, I would have liked to have been able to prepare for that, Your Honor, but I wasn’t given the opportunity. I haven’t had any outside help.
THE COURT: Now, let’s talk about that. Very briefly, you said that you faulted your lawyer for not calling certain witnesses to impeach the credibility of Vincent. Isn’t that your position?
ARCHIE MORETTI: Yes, sir, it is.
THE COURT: And who are those witnesses?
ARCHIE MORETTI: Well, Your Honor, every one in the family, for starters.
The trial started out farcically. Archie fired his first lawyer due to “a break down in the attorney-client relationship.” A new lawyer, Michael Smith, fought to gain him what freedom he could, filing for a dismissal of the indictment and removal of charges, among other efforts. All were promptly denied.
Then, in a blow that caught Archie completely off guard, Marian did something she had never been able to do: She took a stand against her husband. On June 11, Marian decided to cooperate with the government. She confirmed what Vincent had revealed about the family’s crimes. She also agreed to testify against Archie. The Moretti patriarch would face the prosecutors on his own.
On September 17, the day jury selection was set to begin, Archie stood before the honorable Judge Robert E. Jones and requested that Michael Smith, too, be withdrawn as his counsel for proving ineffective and refusing to file the motions he had requested. “At my age I’m effectively on trial for my life. I want to be defended zealously,” he explained. Archie requested to represent himself and asked that the trial — set to begin that morning — be delayed so he could have time to prepare. Judge Jones denied the request for a delay, and the trial proceeded with Archie acting as his own attorney.
As Vincent sat on the witness stand refusing a glass of water, a misguided attempt by Archie to draw his son’s sanity into question, there could be no denying he was once again a pawn in his father’s plans. Whatever dreams of affection Vincent had harbored years earlier during that long walk on a warm Milwaukee evening were finally and irreparably dashed. It wasn’t surprising, given all that had happened, but it still hurt.
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, or maybe in an earnest display of affection for his wife, Archie treated Marian differently when she took the stand a week later. “I have one thing for her,” he told Judge Jones. Then he addressed his wife. “I just want to thank you for 44 wonderful years of marriage. I wouldn’t trade our life together for anybody’s. God bless you and God bless those that are good to you.”
Marian’s heart melted. In the end, despite her testimony, she remained dutiful to her husband and sought his forgiveness. That meant turning her back on Vincent, the original traitor. She instructed her oldest son, Anthony, to remove all the photos of Vincent from their home. When the FBI escorted Vincent to the house they’d ransacked for evidence in order to put together an overnight bag, he saw that he had been erased. After years in conspiracy with his mother and father, it was a devastating revelation.
The judge found his story of events credible. On March 20, 2013, Judge Jones sentenced 65-year-old Archie Moretti to 20 years in prison, potentially a life sentence. As the judge made the announcement, he took a moment to say, “This is a very serious and severe sentence, which you earned every bit.”
In the years since the trial, Archie has fiercely contested the legitimacy of his conviction, chasing the case all the way up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He’s argued he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and judicial misconduct. He continues to file motions from La Tuna prison in Anthony, Texas. A man who once had millions of dollars stashed in a safe deposit box now has an average prison commissary balance of $400 dollars.
The day of Archie’s sentencing, he was given a chance to speak in his defense. “You’ll never find anywhere in my life where I hurt another human being,” he began.
Marian and Vincent each served 15 months in prison. Vincent works for the Veterans Administration and is trying hard to rebuild his life. After several promotions he has earned an office job, the kind that always eluded his father. Most of his income goes to restitution payments.
Vincent and Marian both still live in Portland, Oregon, though their relationship is shattered and they don’t speak. Marian continues to talk to Archie regularly.
Alexander Huls is a journalist based in Toronto whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Esquire, and other fine publications.
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