I’m a sucker for a good bank heist flick and I enjoy crime drama television, though I started to notice that many shows reflect similar stories to those in the news. After Bernie Madoff, a number of series had an episode about a billionaire hedge fund guy screwing over an everyday Joe in some sort of investment scheme. There have been other examples where these series use popular and current news in their episodes like a kidnapping, a missing spouse, a serial killer, and so on.
I enjoy reading and watching fiction that is based in reality. I like it when a story takes me to the uncomfortable edge of “what if”.
And so I keep a look out for those fantastical stories that only reality can tell, vested in irony and karmic justice, or those dramatic tragedies superseded by the ultimate protagonist. Reality is awesome and I’m grateful to be a part of it. But sometimes it can be too strange to be believable.
I love heist films like Ocean’s 11 or Bandits; Inside Man was awesome. Maybe it’s because I can imagine just for a moment, the “what if.” Not that I’d ever rob a bank, but what if I tried, could I get away with it?
I was asked to spend a couple years researching and helping with a case involving an $80 million dollar bank robbery. Yes, million and that figure alone puts the story into my NOT very realistic category.
Well it wasn’t one bank; it was actually more than two dozen banks. Believable now? What if I were to tell you that this bank heist didn’t involve guns or hostages? It didn’t involve get away vehicles or hideouts or even a crew of specialized talent. Boring?
It was one guy that exploited a connection. From what I could tell, the “robberies” happened from 2002 through 2009 when he was eventually arrested by the FBI.
To make the story even more unbelievable, the banks wired him the funds. You see, they thought they were participating in loans made to a billionaire and other landowners.
As an example, one gentleman borrowed from our bank-robbing friend, roughly $6 million using some property in Hawaii as collateral. The heist involved oversubscribing the loan, meaning that this bandit reached out to four different banks to subscribe the loan that he had made to the land owner, indicating that each bank would be in first position (and of course he failed to disclose that three other banks would be just as involved and just as clueless to his scheme). The four banks wired some twenty four million combined unaware that this same individual had transacted with many other banks on many other properties in the same manner. He used some of the funds to make payments on older fraudulent loans so that he could keep the Ponzi scheme going.
He lived large for a number of years and I imagine that there are still some funds yet to be accounted for. I’m sure he’ll be watched closely when he’s released, but the writer in me wonders if there isn’t a closing twist in this tale involving a cache of money on a private island somewhere. What if?
I’ve read numbers as low as $60 million and as high as $135 million, but the court documents and FBI seemed to settle on $79.9 million. What’s a few million among friends?
At the end of it all, he was sentenced to 72 months in prison, I believe half of which was due to not claiming some of the monies on his income taxes that he transferred to his personal accounts. You don’t want to mess with the IRS. They expected their piece of the heist totaling more than $500,000.
I find it interesting that a man who robs a bank of $5,000 could easily spend a couple decades behind bars while someone that defrauds institutions of $80 million might serve just a couple years with good behavior assuming he pays taxes on the money he’s embezzled.
So I’ve thought about writing the tale but it seems to be stranger than fiction.