IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Underground bank heist goes unnoticed

A $67.8 million heist reads like a movie script - but it really happened in Brazil.  MSNBC-TV's Dan Abrams has details

A group of bank robbers pulled off a bank heist worthy of a Hollywood movie, robbing a northern Brazil bank of $67.8 million, one of the largest robberies ever.  The thieves rented a house near a large bank, pretending to be landscapers.  They spent three months constructing a tunnel underneath their house across a busy street and into the bank’s vault, which has a 3.6 foot steel-reinforced, concrete floor.  

The thieves tunneled 262 feet lining their route with wooden panels, plastic sheeting, and electric lighting.  Police believe the men may have been behind a similar heist back in October where a tunnel was used to steal $1 million from a company that transported money to banks.  The lead suspect is believed to be a convicted bank robber who escaped from prison by tunneling his way out.

Globo TV national correspondent Cesar Menezes and Robert McCrie, Professor of Security Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, joined Dan Abrams, host of the 'Abram’s Report' to talk about the bank heist that security cameras didn’t catch.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, ABRAMS REPORT:  So tell me a little bit about this as compared to the other robbery where a tunnel was used and why the authorities believe these two may be linked.

CESAR MENEZES, GLOBO TV NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the way they dug the tunnels is similar. The first one was not as sophisticated as this one. The last one in the bank was very, very sophisticated. As you said, it took them three months to execute the plan.  We don’t know how long it took them to plan. 

But first of all, they rented the house. They registered an enterprise -- it was a grass-selling thing -- so that they could dig the tunnel and take the sand out without making any of the neighbors suspicious. They did that for three months approximately. And afterwards, they decided very, very precisely when to break into the vault. It was on a Friday night to Saturday morning.  

ABRAMS:  Is it true that the money was uninsured?

MENEZES:  Well, the police have not confirmed this yet. But they have confirmed other information, which is very, very important. The building is under construction. The relationship between this construction and the crime has not been made precisely. The police cannot say that one of the workers was involved.

But when the first police agent got there Monday morning, they found some equipment lying in front of one of the security cameras. It’s a very big vault. It has, the police said, three cameras. This equipment was placed right in front of the camera that faced the part of the vault in which the hole was made and the money was taken out. 

ABRAMS: Robert McCrie, have you ever seen a bank robbery like this where they are able to tunnel under and into reinforced steel concrete 3.6 feet deep?

ROBERT MCCRIE, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Yes, we’ve seen other bank robberies that involved tunneling but not recently. The last major one of this type was about 25 years ago. And the reason why they haven’t occurred more frequently is because of the improvement in alarm systems. So that’s one big factor. 

ABRAMS:  What about the flooring, though? I mean the fact that they were able to get through 3.6 feet of steel and concrete floors? 

MCCRIE: That’s no challenge for construction equipment. These people knew how to get through reinforced concrete. They did it very successfully. They were prepared to do it and they succeeded.

ABRAMS: How do banks prevent this from happening in the future?

MCCRIE: They prevent it by having a whole menu of alarms, some of which the bank employees themselves are unaware of and they have backup so that this isn’t possible. They also vet their employees, that is to say check backgrounds very carefully because there’s likely to be insider assistance with this. This includes vendors who may be working in construction. 

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.