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2 Convicted in $18.9-Million Cash Robbery

Court: They were part of a gang that took the money from an armored car depot in 1997. One, the mastermind, was a security officer for the firm.

February 28, 2001|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal jury convicted two men Tuesday of taking part in one of the biggest armed robberies in Los Angeles history--the seizure of $18.9 million in cash from the Dunbar Armored truck depot in the downtown factory district.

Jurors returned guilty verdicts against Allen Pace III, a former Dunbar security officer accused of masterminding the 1997 robbery, and Erik Damon Boyd, one of several accomplices in the daring holdup.

Since cracking the case two years ago, a task force of FBI and IRS agents and Los Angeles police detectives has recovered about $5 million worth of the loot, mostly in the form of homes, cars and other valuables purchased by the bandits.

"Unfortunately, despite their extraordinary efforts, over $10 million is still unaccounted for," said U.S. Atty. Alejandro N. Mayorkas. "I encourage anyone with information about these funds to contact the FBI."

The rest of the stolen money is believed to have been squandered by the robbers at gambling tables in Las Vegas or burned by them because many bills were sequentially numbered and could be easily traced.

Pace, 30, of Compton, lowered his head as U.S. District Judge Lourdes Baird read the verdicts. He glanced back several times at his wife, who wept quietly in the spectator gallery. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he and Boyd, 29, of Buena Park, face up to 20 years in prison.

Four accomplices who previously pleaded guilty testified against the pair during the three-week trial, as did Boyd's father, 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. Attys. Alka Sagar and Ruth C. Pinkel, who prosecuted the case.

Following Pace's instructions, the prosecutors said, the robbery team assembled on the evening of Sept. 12, 1997, at a house party in Long Beach, a ruse designed to establish 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.

Once inside, they began rounding up the few employees who were on duty during the overnight shift. The workers were ordered to lie face down on the floor and their hands and feet were bound with duct tape.

With Pace leading the way, prosecutors said, the armed robbers advanced on the vault area, tied up several more employees and, using bolt cutters, broke the padlocks on metal cages containing the depot's cash.

Most of the currency consisted of $20 bills, destined for drop-offs at automated teller machines throughout the Los Angeles area.

The robbers tossed the money into metal carts, which they wheeled to the building's loading dock and dumped into a U-Haul truck that one of them had rented for the robbery.

Before departing, they smashed all of the security video cameras inside the depot and seized the videotapes. As a security officer, Pace was intimately familiar with the depot's videotaping system, prosecutors said.

Afterward, the robbers drove to one defendant's apartment, changed into dress clothes and returned to the party.

Investigators searching the Dunbar loading dock area after the robbery found a plastic taillight 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.

But the clue was of little value until an informant identified Eugene Lamar Hill Jr., 34, of Bellflower, as a suspect in the robbery two years later. In short order, detectives determined that Hill had rented a 14-foot U-Haul truck a day before the heist and had returned it a day later.

When he was arrested, Hill had in his possession a stack of bills bearing the same money wrappers as those taken in the Dunbar robbery. Hill confessed and led authorities to the other suspects.

Pace testified in his own defense during the trial and denied planning the robbery or taking part in it. He suggested that he had been framed by one of the other defendants "because I was messing with his wife."

Boyd did not take the stand, but his father, Steve, testified against him. Prosecutors said the elder Boyd laundered about $177,000 in cash for his son through the father's business. Steve Boyd testified that his son initially told him the money came from a drug deal, but later admitted that it was stolen from the Dunbar Armored depot.

The jury deliberated three days before returning the guilty verdicts. Pace and Boyd are scheduled to be sentenced April 23. Also awaiting sentencing in the robbery are Hill, Freddie Lynn McCrary Jr., 30, of Arleta, Terry Wayne Brown Sr., 38, of Los Angeles, and Thomas Lee Johnson, 28, of Las Vegas, all of whom had pleaded guilty.

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