THE BIG PAY­BACK

Maxim - - CON­TENTS - By DAVY ROTH­BART

THE SPEC­TAC­U­LARLY STRANGE STORY BE­HIND A BRAZEN CASINO HEIST

A FAKE AS­SAULT RI­FLE. A CAN OF PEP­PER SPRAY. TWO ATVS. A MO­TOR­IZED SKATE­BOARD. AND A BLOW-UP DOLL. THE IN­SIDE STORY OF HOW A TWENTY– SOME­THING REFUGEE FROM BOSNIA HATCHED A BRAZEN SCHEME TO LIVE OUT HIS OWN VER­SION OF THE AMER­I­CAN DREAM.

EARLY ONE FRI­DAY MORN­ING in July 2006, just be­fore dawn, Ad­nan Alisic, 26, and his friend Fleka, 24, crouched in the back of a hot green van in a park­ing lot across from the Casino Ari­zona on the eastern edge of Phoenix and waited. Be­side them, in duf­fel bags, lay the tools for the elab­o­rate heist they’d planned: pep­per spray, road flares, smoke bombs, a replica AK-47, a blow-up doll, gas cans, and maps of the area’s maze of sub­ter­ranean sewer tun­nels. Af­ter months of metic­u­lous plan­ning, they were about to em­bark on one of the bold­est and most in­ven­tive heists of all time. But as the min­utes crawled past, they be­gan to fear they’d missed their tar­get, an ar­mored truck car­ry­ing as much as $10 mil­lion in cash. Maybe it had al­ready come and gone? Then Fleka spot­ted it. Ad­nan leaped into the driver’s seat, donned ski gog­gles and a knit cap, and cranked the van into gear, fol­low­ing the truck. He lifted the fake AK onto his lap and hissed to Fleka, “Come on, let’s do this.”

AD­NAN AR­RIVED IN PHOENIX 10 years be­fore the heist, at age 17, with his par­ents and sis­ter, one fam­ily among a flood of Bos­nian refugees es­cap­ing Europe’s worst geno­cide since World War II. Though at first he spoke no English, Ad­nan was friendly and sharp-wit­ted and soon found work as a room-ser­vice at­ten­dant at the Dou­ble­tree Ho­tel in Scotts­dale, where his mother, a school­teacher in her na­tive coun­try, worked as a maid. Af­ter a few years, when he’d saved enough to buy his own wheels, a guy he worked with en­cour­aged him to check out a used-car auc­tion.

Ad­nan was a born hus­tler who’d honed his en­tre­pre­neur­ial skills as a child dur­ing the war. At the used-car auc­tion in Phoenix, he rec­og­nized an op­por­tu­nity—he could snap up cheap ve­hi­cles, clean and re­pair them, and re­sell them on Craigslist for a hefty profit. It took him six months to flip his first car, but by age 21 he’d opened his own deal­er­ship—alisic Mo­tors—and was buy­ing and sell­ing a dozen cars a week. He soon opened a body shop and then a restau­rant called Café Em­pire, which quickly be­came a so­cial hub for the area’s siz­able Bos­nian pop­u­la­tion.

If the Amer­i­can Dream had a spokesmodel, Ad­nan could’ve fit the bill—hand­some and full of en­ergy, he flashed around town in a gleam­ing black Mercedes SL600, hit night­clubs with friends to catch Bos­nian singers, and landed a beau­ti­ful girl­friend, Le­jla Se­limovic, from Sara­jevo, whose fam­ily had es­caped sim­i­lar hor­rors. Ad­nan had washed up on Amer­i­can soil trau­ma­tized and un­der­nour­ished, bat­tered by war, own­ing noth­ing but the clothes on his back, and in just a few short years, he’d willed his way into a life of en­vi­able com­fort.

Too much com­fort, per­haps. As his busi­nesses flour­ished and Ad­nan grew his staff, he sud­denly found him­self with plenty of free time. His friend Ner­min, who was dat­ing Le­jla’s twin sis­ter, Se­jla, told him about the fun he’d had play­ing black­jack dur­ing a week­end trip to Ve­gas, and one night Ad­nan drove alone to the Casino Ari­zona in Scotts­dale, a sprawl­ing com­plex just be­yond Phoenix’s eastern bor­der. It was the first time Ad­nan had ever been in­side a casino. He played small-stakes black­jack for a few hours, los­ing $300.

It was his next visit a cou­ple weeks later that got him hooked. “Call it be­gin­ner’s luck,” he says. “You know those nights when you just can’t lose?” Ad­nan crushed it at the black­jack ta­bles and walked away with nearly three grand. “You feel in­vin­ci­ble,” he says. “Luck smiles on you, and you think it’s be­cause you some­how de­served it.”

Ad­nan be­gan to play black­jack at Casino Ari­zona every night, some­times alone, some­times with Ner­min, and some­times with his friend Is­mar Kabak­lic, known as Fleka, a loyal but hot­headed Bos­nian he’d hired as a sales­man at his deal­er­ship. In­side, time seemed to stand still, as a sym­phony of slot ma­chines dully jin­gled, wait­resses doled out free drinks, and deal­ers spun cards. When at last they headed out to the park­ing lot, it was al­ways a sur­prise to see the sun com­ing up.

Some nights Ad­nan won big, es­pe­cially at first, but over time the losses came more fre­quently and spi­raled ever higher. Why would Ad­nan keep com­ing back, flush­ing away his hard-earned cash? He at­trib­uted his black­jack ad­dic­tion to a toxic brew of poi­soned genes from his al­co­holic fa­ther, sur­vivor’s guilt from the Bos­nian War, and, most of all, a fe­ro­cious com­pet­i­tive streak. “I just hated to lose,” he says now. Each trip to the ta­bles pre­sented a fresh op­por­tu­nity to come roar­ing back, and on the nights he won big, the adren­a­line surge was be­yond eu­phoric.

Over the next sev­eral years, Ad­nan drained cash from of­fice ac­counts to spend at Casino Ari­zona, and with­out money to pay his em­ploy­ees, they slowly melted away, leav­ing only Fleka; his sis­ter, Ad­nana; and a few oth­ers scram­bling to keep his busi­nesses afloat. Some­times Ad­nan man­aged to keep him­self away from the casino for months, but his ad­dic­tion al­ways out­stripped his re­solve, and he’d wind up back at the Ari­zona, walk­ing out to his car at dawn, full of heartache and fury, pock­ets empty.

Soon he was bor­row­ing money and blow­ing it the same night, rack­ing up debts he couldn’t re­pay. Ad­nan had started at the bot­tom, made it to the top, and fallen back into a deeper hole than when he’d stepped, pen­ni­less, off a U.N. plane. He’d even pulled Fleka and other Bos­nian black­jack fans into the abyss. Ad­nan lost nearly $800,000 at Casino Ari­zona; add Fleka and their other pals, and the to­tal was over a mil­lion.

One evening, Ad­nan scraped to­gether a few hun­dred bucks and made the fa­mil­iar drive to

If they won’t let me win my money back, I’ll find an­other way,” Ad­nan re­solved.

Scotts­dale to gam­ble. But this time, he was on a tear. “Sim­ply couldn’t lose,” he says. “If I had a bad hand, the dealer went bust. If I needed an ace, I pulled an ace.” He was up al­most 60 grand—on his way, per­haps, to get­ting back on his feet.

Sud­denly, he found him­self sur­rounded by se­cu­rity guards who asked for his ID, though he’d been such a fre­quent visi­tor he knew many of the black­jack deal­ers on a first-name ba­sis. On prin­ci­ple, he re­fused, and the guards hus­tled him to­ward the doors. Ad­nan was fu­ri­ous. The casino had had no qualms about squeez­ing him dry night af­ter night, but the one time luck was on his side, they’d quashed his mon­ster rally. He shouted at casino work­ers and even shoved a guard, and as they es­corted him out of the build­ing, they told him he was banned. That’s fine, Ad­nan re­solved, sit­ting in his car, boil­ing with rage. If they won’t let me win my

money back, I’ll find an­other way.

AD­NAN’S WIN­NINGS OF­FERED a brief respite, as he cov­ered bills and paid down debts. But it wasn’t long be­fore he was back at the ta­bles. Eighty-sixed from Casino Ari­zona, he started vis­it­ing neigh­bor­ing casi­nos, ar­riv­ing full of hope, and leav­ing, most nights, broke and des­per­ate.

Late one night, while head­ing home on the 101 free­way, Ad­nan pulled over to take a leak. Af­ter­ward, he peered over the guardrail, look­ing down an em­bank­ment to the desert floor 30 feet be­low, and in the dim starlight glimpsed a dark, hol­low shape that ap­peared to be the mouth of a tun­nel. The en­trance was as round and wide as a car, and he was able to walk in with­out even duck­ing his head. It twisted un­der the road, then dog­legged to the right, dis­ap­pear­ing into dark­ness to­ward the Casino Ari­zona. That’s when a crazy idea seized him.

The next morn­ing at Alisic Mo­tors, Ad­nan grinned at Fleka. “I know how we’re go­ing to get our money back,” he an­nounced.

Later that night, they dressed in dark clothes, burned over to Scotts­dale, and parked at a shop­ping cen­ter near the tun­nel en­trance. Wait­ing for a lull in traf­fic, they scram­bled across the free­way and down the em­bank­ment, into the open­ing.

The stench was over­pow­er­ing. Their flash­lights shone across a trickle of trash and raw sewage. Graf­fiti cov­ered the walls. Rats scam­pered past empty beer bot­tles. Some path­ways forked off in mys­te­ri­ous di­rec­tions; oth­ers curved back and forth and came to a dead end. Where the main tun­nels ended, Ad­nan no­ticed gi­ant green plas­tic pipes, sev­eral feet in di­am­e­ter. Bang­ing his Maglite against them pro­duced an in­de­ter­mi­nate hol­low sound. “I want to see what’s in­side,” he told Fleka.

Us­ing power saws from the auto-body shop, they cut their way through eight inches of plas­tic tub­ing be­fore strik­ing metal. Ad­nan drove back to the shop to re­trieve a weld­ing mask and acety­lene torches, and re­turned to shear open the green pipe, re­veal­ing a ven­ti­la­tion shaft just wide enough for a man to crawl into. Ad­nan and Fleka ducked their heads in­side and aimed their flash­lights into the loom­ing shad­ows.

A few nights later, they re­turned with a skate­board rigged with a gaspow­ered mo­tor from Ad­nan’s auto shop. Ad­nan squeezed him­self in­side the green pipe, lay back on the board like a luge racer, fired up the mo­tor, and rum­bled down the nar­row pipe, shoot­ing past the first man­hole, hun­dreds of yards far­ther along to a sec­ond ver­ti­cal chute. That’s when the mo­tor sput­tered out. Ad­nan re­al­ized he’d made a ter­ri­ble mis­take.

The ex­haust had nowhere to go, and he be­gan to cough and choke as the fumes filled his lungs. Des­per­ately, he turned back the way he’d come, pad­dling deeper into the thick cloud of smoke. Be­neath Dob­son Road and In­dian Bend, he sank to the ground, un­able to breathe. No, he thought. I can’t let the casino win. He picked him­self up and dived down the next stretch of pipe. His lungs burned. His vi­sion swam with pur­ple stars. Sev­eral times, he nearly passed out be­fore shak­ing him­self awake again and will­ing him­self on­ward. Fi­nally, in his hy­poxic haze, he heard Fleka’s voice cry­ing his name, and then he was loose, back in the main tun­nel, flop­ping like a fish, gasp­ing for breath. “What hap­pened?” Fleka shouted. “You could’ve died down here! Now have you had enough?”

Ad­nan heaved a se­ries of ragged breaths and crum­pled on the tun­nel floor. Af­ter sev­eral min­utes, he col­lected him­self and slowly lifted his head. “Never enough,” he croaked. “Let’s come back to­mor­row night.”

AD­NAN GREW UP IN THE CITY of Banja Luka in north­ern Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina, the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest city, af­ter Sara­jevo. Though his fa­ther some­times got drunk and roughed up his mom and sis­ter, his child­hood was mostly a happy one. He played soc­cer, swam in the river, and ex­plored back al­leys. Then, when he was 12, ev­ery­thing changed. Ser­bian na­tion­al­ist leader Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic seized power and be­gan us­ing the Yu­goslav Army, along with Bos­nian Serb mili­tias, to tar­get Bos­nian Mus­lims and Croa­t­ian Catholics through an in­fa­mous eth­nic cleans­ing cam­paign. Soon the coun­try was en­gulfed in a bru­tal sec­tar­ian war.

Banja Luka was the Serbs’ strong­hold, of­ten de­scribed as the world’s largest prison; Serb sol­diers and po­lice ruled the streets, and Mus­lims like Ad­nan and his fam­ily were forced to hide in their homes or risk ar­rest, im­pris­on­ment, and death. Vans and SUVS stuffed with sol­diers prowled the city, drag­ging away dis­senters, who were rarely seen again. For months Ad­nan bought and sold eggs and can­dles at a bustling black mar­ket in town, stop­ping on his way home to buy food for his fam­ily. Ci­garettes, he soon re­al­ized, turned a far higher profit. He’d buy a car­ton in the morn­ing at the ra­tions de­pot and sell them off pack by pack, earn­ing just enough to put an­other day’s food on the ta­ble.

Across the coun­try­side, Serb fight­ers were ex­e­cut­ing a ruth­less cam­paign of eth­nic cleans­ing, burn­ing vil­lages, rap­ing women and girls, and slaugh­ter­ing Mus­lims and Croa­t­ians by the dozens—even the hun­dreds. As the con­flict es­ca­lated, Ad­nan, a street urchin creep­ing be­tween towns, hop­ping box­cars at night, saw some of the war’s worst atroc­i­ties.

One night, he re­calls, he slipped into a dark­ened train car and found

it crammed with the mur­dered corpses of men, women, and chil­dren, en route to a mass grave. An­other time, a train he was on stopped on the way back to Banja Luka, and as he hid in the bushes, Serb com­man­dos poured off the train into a nearby vil­lage. Ad­nan watched them round up vil­lagers and ex­e­cute them. On oc­ca­sion, he was shot at by po­lice and sol­diers, and he was twice grazed by bul­lets. Once he was cap­tured by po­lice, who sav­agely tor­tured him for four days be­fore he es­caped.

A decade later, af­ter he lost his for­tune at the black­jack ta­bles, the Casino Ari­zona be­came con­flated in his mind with the Serb war ma­chine—both were face­less en­e­mies who’d coldly ru­ined his life. The ag­o­niz­ing pow­er­less­ness and rage he’d felt to­ward the Serb regime, which had oc­cu­pied his city and turned the Bos­nian coun­try­side into bloody killing fields, he now chan­neled to­ward the casino. A suc­cess­ful heist would not only pro­vide the cash needed to erase his debts but also al­low him to de­liver the kind of re­venge he’d des­per­ately longed for since war had first torn apart his na­tive land. “I was go­ing to find a way to strike back,” Ad­nan says, “no mat­ter what it took.”

SUM­MER BROUGHT UN­RE­LENT­ING heat and mis­ery. Ad­nan was be­yond broke, his busi­nesses in sham­bles, his debts climb­ing dan­ger­ously. He worked around the clock, rac­ing to pre­pare for the heist. In­side his auto deal­er­ship’s va­cated of­fice, he spread out hand-drawn maps, along with aerial views he’d printed off the In­ter­net. Ini­tially, he had wanted to hit the casino’s vault and then es­cape through sewer tun­nels, but he’d since cooked up a new scheme that was in some ways even cra­zier.

With­out fail, an ar­mored truck de­liv­ered mil­lions in cash each morn­ing, park­ing in an al­ley be­hind the casino. Ad­nan knew that each truck car­ried two armed guards. A third guard fol­lowed in a backup ve­hi­cle.

Ad­nan was adamant that he and Fleka and their crew pull off the heist with­out us­ing ac­tual weapons. He’d spent many late nights googling

Ad­nan had man­aged to grab $749,000— al­most ex­actly what he had lost play­ing black­jack.

“ar­mored-truck rob­beries,” and his re­search showed that guns usu­ally led to dis­as­ter. The last thing he wanted was a fire­fight, which risked a guard or by­stander get­ting shot, not to men­tion him­self.

The plan was dev­il­ishly cre­ative. As Ad­nan en­vi­sioned it, he and Fleka would pull up be­hind the truck as the guards un­loaded the cash, blast them with pep­per spray, and grab the cash. To dis­cour­age the guards from reach­ing for their hand­guns, Fleka would bran­dish the fake AK-47.

Once they had the money in their van, Ad­nan and Fleka would drive a few hun­dred yards to the cor­ner of Dob­son Road and In­dian Bend, stop­ping above a man­hole (which they’d have fit­ted with a fake cover for easy en­try) that led to the tun­nels be­low. As po­lice swarmed the scene, they’d set off smoke bombs, strap a blow-up doll wear­ing a ski mask into the van’s front seat, and place the fake AK in the doll’s lap. Then, with the smoke bil­low­ing, they’d squeeze through an open hatch they’d carved in the floor of the van and shimmy down rope lad­ders into the man­hole, with the bags of money. Be­fore re­plac­ing the cover, they’d pull a string to shift the van into gear, let­ting it roll into a guardrail at the end of the block.

Law en­force­ment would sur­round the van, caught in a tense stand­off with a blow-up doll, at which point a fuse would ig­nite two gas cans, en-

gulf­ing the van—and any re­main­ing ev­i­dence—in flames. Mean­while, Ad­nan and Fleka would zoom a cou­ple of miles through the sewer tun­nels on ATVS, then en­ter the green un­der­ground ven­ti­la­tion pipes, crawl­ing 20 yards to an­other ver­ti­cal shaft. From there, they’d haul them­selves up a sec­ond rope lad­der, through an­other man­hole cover, and up a se­cret hatch in the floor of a sec­ond van, pi­loted by two con­fed­er­ates. The driv­ers would rocket them to a sec­ond set of get­away cars be­fore meet­ing at a ho­tel room sev­eral miles north to split the cash. Ad­nan had bought two plane tick­ets to Bosnia, one for him­self, one for Le­jla, who was un­aware of the heist. It would be his first time home since they’d fled the war.

Ad­nan knew how com­pletely in­sane the plan sounded, but he’d been pre­par­ing for months. The ve­hi­cles had all been smug­gled off auc­tion lots and couldn’t be traced. Every piece of gear—the pep­per spray, the ski masks, the fake gun—had been bought with cash in var­i­ous dis­tant sub­urbs. He knew that a mil­lion dol­lars in twen­ties and hun­dreds could fit into a duf­fel bag, and that po­lice dogs at air­ports were trained to sniff out bun­dles of U.S. dol­lars—but not eu­ros. So he planned to stash some of the money and trade the rest for 500-euro notes, which he’d ar­ranged to have wait­ing at a lo­cal cur­rency ex­change. By the time in­ves­ti­ga­tors dis­cov­ered his iden­tity, Ad­nan rea­soned, he’d be long gone.

A few weeks be­fore­hand, a pair of Bos­nian broth­ers named Dinko and Ivica whose help Ad­nan had en­listed dropped out; the plan was just too risky. Ad­nan brought in an old Bos­nian hus­tler called Gypsy to drive the get­away van, along with Gypsy’s son Dani­jel. Mean­while, Fleka was re­fus­ing to pull the heist with­out a gun. “The guards have guns!” Fleka said. “This is sui­cide.”

“No weapons,” Ad­nan said. “I don’t want blood on my hands.”

THE SUN ROSE on the morn­ing of July 21 while Ad­nan and Fleka crouched in the back of the van in the park­ing lot of the Casino Ari­zona. They’d added plain let­ter­ing that said ari­zona paint­ing co. on the front of the van to avoid arous­ing sus­pi­cion.

Ad­nan hadn’t slept or eaten in days. “Want to skip out and go for a burger?” he joked to Fleka. But they were in too deep to turn back now.

The ar­mored truck pulled into the lot and rolled down the side al­ley, headed for its usual drop point. Ad­nan fol­lowed in the van. They passed an armed guard, lop­ing in the same di­rec­tion. This was Robert Brown, who’d worked for Ban­tek West, the ar­mored-truck com­pany, for 16 months. Hol­stered at his side was a shiny ser­vice re­volver.

Fleka saw the weapon and be­gan screech­ing at Ad­nan. “Did you see the gun? He’s gonna kill us, man! I’m telling you, he’s gonna kill us!” “He’s not go­ing to kill us,” Ad­nan fired back. “Just fol­low the plan.” When they reached the truck, one guard stood be­side it, load­ing bags of money onto a rolling cart, while an­other sat be­hind the wheel. Ad­nan donned a knit hat and a pair of ski gog­gles. Step­ping from the van, he read­ied a can­is­ter of pep­per spray.

Brown later de­scribed what he saw in a state­ment to the FBI: A green work van parked be­hind the ar­mored truck. He saw a man in work clothes ap­proach the guard out­side the truck, Joshua Ouel­lette. Then a yel­low cloud ap­peared, and Ouel­lette fell to the pave­ment, writhing in agony. Brown dived be­hind a ven­ti­la­tor, re­al­iz­ing they were un­der at­tack.

Ad­nan cir­cled the truck to the driver’s side and shot his pep­per spray into the air vents be­low the driver’s win­dow. Chris Wil­liams, the guard be­hind the wheel, col­lapsed in a spasm of hack­ing coughs. His own eyes tear­ing up and burn­ing, Ad­nan raced to the open doors of the ar­mored truck, grabbed two plas­tic bags packed with large bills, and tossed them on the cart. He then pushed it along­side his van and yanked open the doors in back, shout­ing for Fleka to help him dump the money in­side.

Fleka leaped from the van, ski mask over his face, let­ting loose a bat­tle cry and wildly swing­ing the fake AK. The sight was so com­i­cal that Ad­nan couldn’t help laugh­ing. “Come on!” he shouted. “The ac­tion’s over. Help me get the money in the van!”

Ad­nan had lost sight of Ouel­lette, who was cough­ing in the grass, try­ing to clear his lungs. Wil­liams, the driver, fired up the ar­mored truck and sped around the cor­ner, the heavy, open doors bang­ing loose. Mean­while, be­hind the ven­ti­la­tor, Brown had de­cided not to in­ter­vene. Ap­par­ently, the guards prized their lives more than the casino’s money. The truck had left on its run with $5.5 mil­lion on board, dropped half of that at an­other casino, and still had more than $2 mil­lion when it reached the Casino Ari­zona. Ad­nan had man­aged to grab around $749,000—al­most ex­actly the amount he’d lost play­ing black­jack.

With the bags of cash piled into their van, Ad­nan and Fleka took off. Ad­nan drove one short block to the in­ter­sec­tion at Dob­son Road and In­dian Bend and pulled into po­si­tion above the replica man­hole cover they’d welded in his shop. Fleka lit a few smoke bombs and tossed them out his win­dow, cre­at­ing a thick wall of smoke on all sides. “Lift the cover!”

Ad­nan shouted to Fleka, as he buck­led the blow-up doll into the front seat, pulled a ski mask over its head, and armed it with the fake ma­chine gun. Ad­nan knew from prac­tice runs that once they were down in the drainage sys­tem, the man­hole cover re­placed above their heads, it would take just six min­utes for them to speed through the tun­nels and pipes to the dis­tant street where Gypsy and his son waited in the get­away van. But there was one prob­lem. “It’s stuck!” Fleka yelled. “I can’t get the cover off!” Ad­nan hur­dled into the back of the van, and to­gether he and Fleka pulled at the cover with all their might, but it wouldn’t budge. When Ad­nan looked closer, he re­al­ized what had hap­pened—the fake cover, a few cen­time­ters too wide, had been mashed into the hole, per­haps by a pass­ing car. No amount of lift was go­ing to un­cork it. “Fuck!” Ad­nan screamed. Fran­ti­cally, Ad­nan tried once more to pry it loose, us­ing the bar­rel of the phony AK. But the tip broke off. Then it was on to plan B—es­cape by any means pos­si­ble. Ad­nan shoved the blow-up doll out of the driver’s seat, jumped be­hind the wheel, and stomped on the gas. Fleka whooped from the back of the van, stuff­ing plas­tic-wrapped bun­dles of money into black duf­fel bags. “We got the cash!” he sang, soar­ing from adren­a­line. Ad­nan gunned the van through the Salt River Pima-mari­copa In­dian Com­mu­nity, a patch­work of dirt roads and di­lap­i­dated homes, sev­eral po­lice cars in pur­suit. Traf­fic clogged the 101, and the cops hung on his tail. Ad­nan bolted off the ex­press­way into South Scotts­dale’s quiet res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods. He cut left, right, left again, and re­al­ized he’d some­how shaken the cops. “We’re free!” Fleka cried. Ad­nan sped onto Miller Road, head­ing north to­ward the get­away cars, when sud­denly the van’s en­gine sput­tered, choked, and quit com­pletely. The ve­hi­cle jerked to a stop. Sirens wailed a few blocks away. “Run!” Ad­nan screamed at Fleka. “No mat­ter what, don’t get caught!” Ad­nan darted up the drive­way of a low, sin­gle-story of­fice com­plex, leaped onto a con­crete wall, and hoisted him­self onto the roof. Then he crawled to the edge to look for Fleka. What he saw sucked the wind out of him—his friend was face­down in the grass. Two cops held him down and hand­cuffed him, while an­other rum­maged through Fleka’s duf­fel bag, stuffed with $200,000 cash. Ad­nan sprinted across the roof, dropped to the ground, vaulted a wall, and found him­self fac­ing a large, crowded swim­ming pool. Gray­haired men and women milled about in the wa­ter, while oth­ers, in robes and pa­ja­mas, played backgam­mon at pool­side ta­bles. He’d landed on the grounds of the Springs of Scotts­dale Re­tire­ment Com­mu­nity. In the midst of his crazed es­cape, this scene of lazy tran­quil­ity seemed par­tic­u­larly sur­real. Dozens of po­lice ve­hi­cles—phoenix PD, state troop­ers, sher­iff’s depart­ment, FBI, and a SWAT team—had con­verged next door. In to­tal, there were nearly a hun­dred in­ves­ti­ga­tors swarm­ing the scene. Ad­nan plucked a white long-sleeved shirt from the back of a sofa in the lobby, pulled it over his sweat-soaked T-shirt, and edged out­side onto the se­nior cen­ter’s lawn, creep­ing along a thick line of hedges. Be­hind the cops, lo­cals jos­tled with newly ar­riv­ing re­porters and TV crews. Ad­nan stepped around the hedges and coolly crossed the street, cran­ing his neck back at the se­nior cen­ter. Through­out his child­hood in Banja Luka, as he passed daily through po­lice check­points, he’d mas­tered the art of ap­pear­ing be­yond sus­pi­cion. Now, with the cops’ at­ten­tion di­verted, he made the long­est walk of his life, un­til at last he’d crossed the street and melted through the line of law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties. From the lobby of a hos­pi­tal a half mile down the road, Ad­nan called Gypsy. “I’m free,” he said. “Can you give me a lift?” For the next 45 min­utes, as he waited for his ride to ar­rive, a dazed Ad­nan sat with pa­tients and se­cu­rity guards, watch­ing TV cov­er­age of the hunt for the re­main­ing sus­pect who was still at large—him. Af­ter months of metic­u­lous plan­ning, his dream heist had spec­tac­u­larly gone bust.

AD­NAN’S TRIAL BE­GAN 16 months later in the U.S. Dis­trict Court of Ari­zona. Af­ter the ca­per, Gypsy had dropped Ad­nan at home. His plan was to pick up Le­jla and head straight for the air­port. But as soon as he got in his sky-blue Jaguar and zoomed out of his apart­ment com­plex, po­lice cars boxed him in from every di­rec­tion. Ad­nan stepped out with his hands up. “Be care­ful of the car,” he said, as of­fi­cers rushed him. Fleka had spilled ev­ery­thing the mo­ment they’d nabbed him, lead­ing the cops right to Ad­nan’s door. Be­fore his trial, Ad­nan made one more des­per­ate gam­ble. Pros­e­cu­tors of­fered a plea deal of 10 years, but Ad­nan was trou­bled by the most se­ri­ous charge against him: the use of a firearm while com­mit­ting a felony. All along, he’d in­sisted that their gun be fake. But when the FBI pulled apart the heist van, they dis­cov­ered a 9-mm pis­tol wrapped in a sheet—a gun both Ad­nan and Fleka would claim the other had brought with­out their knowl­edge. Not want­ing to plead guilty to some­thing he didn’t feel re­spon­si­ble for, Ad­nan de­manded a trial. Af­ter six days, the jury found him guilty on all counts. As Ad­nan’s mom and sis­ter looked on, along with Le­jla, Ner­min, Se­jla, and an ar­ray of friends Ad­nan had helped and sup­ported over the years, the judge handed down his sen­tence: 17½ years.

LOM­POC FED­ERAL COR­REC­TIONAL in­sti­tu­tion is a sprawl­ing, lowse­cu­rity prison set among ver­dant mead­ows in a val­ley north of Santa Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia. Ad­nan, now 35, sits in a vis­it­ing room. With heart­break­ing can­dor and cin­e­matic de­tail, he chron­i­cles his strange jour­ney from the bloody streets of war-torn Banja Luka to the black­jack ta­bles of the Casino Ari­zona. Mid­way through his sen­tence, he’s re­mark­ably full of hope, and is al­ready plot­ting his in­evitable come­back. “Com­ing to prison saved my life,” Ad­nan says earnestly. “Let’s be hon­est: I was as com­pul­sive a gam­bler as you’ll ever meet. Seven hun­dred grand? It would’ve been gone in six months.” It was only a mat­ter of time, he says, be­fore he racked up the kind of debts that would’ve put his life at risk. Af­ter the trial, Le­jla moved to At­lanta and started a fam­ily with an­other man. Ad­nan’s mom still cleans 15 guest rooms a day at the Scotts­dale Dou­ble­tree. Ad­nana, his sis­ter, waits ta­bles in the ho­tel restau­rant. They pay into Ad­nan’s com­mis­sary ac­count so he can buy books and stamps and make phone calls. Ad­nan still has eight years to serve, but his mom has al­ready pre­pared a bed­room for when he re­turns. As for his heist part­ners, Gypsy did two years, while his son, Dani­jel, re­ceived only pro­ba­tion. Fleka was sen­tenced to 6½ years, and upon his re­lease was de­ported. He now lives in Aus­tria and has re­cently mar­ried. Strangely, the two old friends re­main close. “Fleka is still Fleka,” Ad­nan says with a laugh. “Usu­ally when we talk on the phone, he’s com­plain­ing. And I’m the one in prison!” There’s a chance Ad­nan will be de­ported when he gets out, cut­ting the fi­nal cord to his Amer­i­can Dream. But he wants to stay and is vis­i­bly ex­cited about start­ing an­other suc­cess­ful busi­ness. He avidly reads For­tune and The Wall Street Jour­nal, fol­low­ing mar­ket trends, look­ing for his next hus­tle—an hon­est liv­ing this time. Maybe he’ll get into biodiesel or new farm-ir­ri­ga­tion tech­nolo­gies. If he could build a thriv­ing cig­a­rette racket in a war zone as a kid, he rea­sons, he can suc­ceed at just about any­thing he puts his mind to. He just wants one more shot at suc­cess. “The heist may have failed,” Ad­nan says. “But to­day I am happy. To­day I’m at peace.”

Ad­nan buck­led the doll into the front seat and armed it with the ma­chine gun.

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