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Dubbed by one investigator as the “most amazing burglary ever,” a multi-million bank heist in a small, sleepy California town had all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster, including rumored links to the mob, Jimmy Hoffa and then-president Richard Nixon.
But there was nothing fictional about this real-life bank robbery, carefully planned by a team of skilled thieves, who went to elaborate lengths to break into the United California Bank in Laguna Niguel, California in March of 1972 in the hopes of earning a $30 million payday.
“Amil Dinsio was legendary. Still is legendary and he perfected the art of bank burglary in a way that nobody else had,” Kelly Richmond Pope, a forensic accounting expert, said of the heist’s mastermind.
Pope, former investigators and even Dinsio himself revisit one of the country’s most notorious bank robberies in the debut installment of a new six-episode CNBC series “Super Heists,” which takes an inside look at infamous thefts from the eyes of the masterminds themselves and the investigators who tirelessly pursue them.
The premier episode, airing at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC, focuses on Dinsio’s brazen multi-day robbery of the United California Bank vault, which launched one of the largest federal investigations on record, but the series also explores a $12 million theft of rare books, the robbery of Picasso masterpieces taken in plain sight, and Argentina’s “Heist of the Century,” carried out by thieves who tunneled their way into the bank vault to steal $160 million in uninsured cash.
“Money is the central character in all of our storytelling,” Denise Contis, executive vice president and head of content for CNBC Primetime, said in a release announcing the new series.
The United California Bank heist was nothing short of spectacular, meticulously carried out after months of planning by what former Orange County Register reporter Keith Sharon called “the best bank robbery team in the world.”
Dinsio—who grew up poor in Youngstown, Ohio before taking up with the mob—was already an established bank robber when he got a tip from Jimmy Hoffa, the infamous president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, about a bank in California with $30 million hidden in a safe deposit box at the Laguna Niguel bank, he told “Super Heists”
The money was allegedly a slush fund of “dirty money” earmarked for President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, including $3 million in contributions from Hoffa himself, according to the episode.
“Nixon would meet with donors and Nixon would say if you can give me $1 million, you can give me $2 million,” Sharon said. “Nixon would take their extorted campaign contributions and he would hide it somewhere and one of those places was in Laguna Niguel, California.”
Hoffa allegedly wanted to reclaim the money after Nixon had cost him his job as the Teamsters president and provided Dinsio with the multi-million dollar tip.
Although Dinsio insists “it was Nixon’s money” in the bank, federal investigators involved in the case have disputed that claim.
Regardless of whose money sat in the vault, Dinsio assembled a team, including brother James Dinsio, nephew Harry Barber, brother-in-law Chuck Mulligan, friend Phil Christopher and accomplished thief Charlie Broeckel to carry out the bank job.
After weeks of careful planning—including renting a condo with a view of the bank’s roof and buying a getaway car specially adapted to hide their tools in the trunk—the team carried out the brazen, multiple-day robbery by tunneling through the roof of the bank into the secure vault where the safe deposit boxes were kept.
While the bank was closed for the weekend, the thieves returned several times, ultimately hitting 458 of the 500 safe deposit boxes before making their final getaway with more than $12 million.
“This bank burglary was the most amazing bank burglary ever,” Paul Chamberlain, a retired special agent with the FBI who worked the case, told “Super Heists.”
After quickly realizing this was no average bank burglary, the FBI assigned a massive 125 agents to investigate the case and it became, according to Chamberlain “one of the most investigated cases in the history of the FBI.”
For months the investigation led nowhere, but Chamberlain said “they made stupid mistakes” that ultimately led authorities to the team of criminals.
“They were flawless at the bank job, but they made a number of mistakes prior to that,” he said.
To find out more about the creative ways the team pulled off the notorious heist or what led to their ultimate arrest, tune into "Super Heists" Monday on CNBC at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
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