I saw a trailer for a movie called Masterminds and something about it seemed familiar, beyond the usual familiarity of derivative comedy. I looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered the movie was based on a true story, a story I had entertained myself with while bored at work in 1999. A little more research led me to the book, Heist, written by Jeff Diamant, a journalist who had covered the case for the Charlotte Observer.
Heist is about the 1997 Loomis heist in Charlotte, North Carolina. When I first read about it in 1999, it was called “The Hillbilly Heist,” because the thieves were poor, mostly uneducated, lived in the predominantly blue collar Gaston County, and some of the conspirators spent lavishly on items generally considered to be tacky. The trailer for the movie Masterminds indicates they embraced the Hillbilly story with enthusiasm.
On October 4, 1997, David Ghantt, a Loomis employee, loaded over 17 million dollars into a Loomis truck and drove away. He and the money appeared to have disappeared completely. Almost immediately, a few people who should not have a lot of money to spend began spending lavishly, but there was no obvious connection to either Ghantt or the heist. Eventually, everyone involved was caught. Heist tells the story of the conspiracy, the investigation, and the aftermath. It’s an interesting story with some interesting characters.
While there are many ridiculous elements to the story, and the movie is being marketed as a broad comedy, I found the story sad. David Ghantt felt like he was trapped in poverty and would never have a lifestyle equal to the lifestyle his parents had been able to have. He was not wrong. He had not attended college, and the well paying jobs that afforded his parents a middle class lifestyle were gone and not coming back. I can understand his anger. It is hard to watch the shrinking of the Middle Class and not feel anger. That said, Ghantt is not a good guy. He left his wife and parents twisting in the wind, uncertain of his fate for months. He left them without any apparent second thought.
The sad part of the story is not the wreckage of the conspirator’s lives, or any harm done to Loomis, but the collateral damage to the friends and families of the conspirators. The lavish spending by Steve Chambers and his wife drew a lot of people into the nexus of crime. Several people ended up being charged with money laundering because they thought they were doing a relative or friend a favor.
There is a lesson here for any reader who might consider absconding with millions of dollars. The lesson is, “don’t.” Ghantt, Campbell and Chambers all thought they had a perfect plan. Sure, Chambers didn’t follow the plan, but they would have been caught sooner or later. Why? The FBI tasked an entire office to find the culprits and recover the money. Loomis and their insurer immediately hired private investigators to find the money and the conspirators. Even if the FBI had been pulled onto something else before resolving the case, the private investigators would never had stopped.
The only way to get away with stealing millions is to be the financial institution.