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Leader of Heist Is Given 24 Years

Court: The $18.9-million theft in 1997 in L.A. was the biggest cash armed robbery in U.S. history.

June 19, 2001|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A fired Dunbar Armored Co. security worker who masterminded what the FBI calls the largest cash armed robbery in U.S. history was sentenced Monday to 24 years and two months in federal prison for the brazen September 1997 heist.

Allen Pace III, 32, also was ordered to pay back the $18.9 million that he and five accomplices stole during the takeover robbery at Dunbar's armored truck depot in downtown Los Angeles.

Asked by U.S. District Judge Lourdes Baird if he had anything to say in his defense before she sentenced him, Pace mumbled, "No. No, ma'am."

Authorities believe that Pace and his fellow bandits spent several million stolen dollars on homes, cars and gambling sprees before their arrests. They say as much as $10 million is still hidden somewhere, and the convicted robbers won't divulge where it is.

Baird sentenced Pace under federal guidelines to the middle ground between the prosecution's request for a 27-year term and a defense lawyer's plea for 21 years.

Baird characterized the sentence as "a very long time, a very serious sentence," saying that she wanted to punish Pace for showing no remorse and for denying that he played any role in the robbery.

Baird also tacked on extra prison time because Pace and his armed co-conspirators tied up and terrorized several Dunbar employees.

"You were the employee who knew about [the money]," Baird told Pace as he stood silently in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom, wearing a green jacket and sandals. "You were the one who got everybody else involved."

Prosecutors Alka Sagar and Ruth Pinkel said they were pleased with the sentence.

"It sends a message to the community that if you commit a crime of this magnitude, there are going to be stiff penalties for it," said Sagar, who spent several years working on the case, along with a team of federal agents and Los Angeles Police Department detectives.

Under federal prison guidelines, Pace will be required to serve about 18 years. That means that he won't get out until he is at least 50.

"It could have been worse," said Edward M. Robinson, Pace's defense lawyer. He noted that Pace could have been sentenced to three additional years.

Pace must pay any restitution to Dunbar's insurer, Lloyd's of London, if any of the missing money is recovered. He and his fellow robbers will be jointly responsible for paying the restitution, Baird said.

The five others have all been convicted and have given sentences ranging from eight to 17 years.

Compton resident Pace was a suspect from the outset because he had been fired by Dunbar a day before the robbery for undisclosed reasons. Dunbar later disclosed that Pace had been fired for tampering with company vehicles.

A safety officer, Pace had been responsible for making sure that fire extinguishers were full and that workers were taking all necessary precautions.

As part of his job, Pace had the run of the fortress-like truck depot on Mateo Street. Authorities say he used that inside knowledge to provide his accomplices with floor plans, the location of security cameras and a way into the vault, where cash destined for automated teller machines was stored.

After midnight on Sept. 13, 1997, the robbers--clad in black and wearing radio headsets--entered the depot with a key provided by Pace. They gained entrance to the vault using another key taken from a supervisor and then loaded a rented U-Haul truck with mounds of cash before heading back to a house party that authorities say they used to establish alibis.

Pace and the other bandits then kept a low profile, temporarily thwarting authorities' efforts to gather evidence against them.

Some, including Pace, set up front companies to launder some of the cash. Pace also got another man to buy several properties for him so they would not be listed in Pace's name, according to trial testimony.

The six men were arrested more than two years after the heist. Three others were arrested later for helping launder the money; two have been convicted.

On Monday, after the sentencing, FBI special agent John McEachern III said the investigation will continue.

"Obviously the case is not closed," said McEachern, who has spent more than three years investigating the case along with LAPD Det. John Licata. "We are continuing to attempt to locate the missing money and find anyone else who might have been involved."

Pace's sentence was much longer than those of his collaborators. One, Erik Damon Boyd of Buena Park, was sentenced to more than 17 years. The others received between eight and 10 years.

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