Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

More stolen gold bars may be in S. Florida, FBI says

- By Jay Weaver The Miami Her­ald

It’s not ex­actly Fort Knox — not even close.

But an acre-sized white build­ing in an Opa-locka industrial dis­trict boasts of be­ing among the largest pre­cious-metal re­finer­ies in the world.

And now, Repub­lic Met­als Corp. finds it­self the vic­tim of a gold-bar heist pulled off on a North Carolina high­way that the FBI con­firmed has a “South Florida nexus.”

One of the stolen bars — weigh­ing 26 pounds and val­ued at about a half-mil­lion dol­lars — was re­cov­ered in South Florida last month, said the FBI, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

How it ended up in the Miami area, one of the hubs for the na­tion’s gold trade, is a mys­tery.

“We be­lieve that ad­di­tional gold bars from the rob­bery may still be in South Florida,” FBI Su­per­vi­sory Spe­cial Agent Justin Fleck said, seek­ing the public’s as­sis­tance as the agency of­fered a $25,000 re­ward for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to an ar­rest and charges.

This is how the rob­bery un­folded:

On a Sun­day morn­ing in early March, a Miami-based ar­mored truck courier picked up a to­tal of 275 pounds of gold worth about $5 mil­lion, and headed north on In­ter­state 95 to a ship­ping des­ti­na­tion in Bos­ton, ac­cord­ing to the FBI and North Carolina in­ves­ti­ga­tors. But that evening, as the Trans Value couri­ers stopped along a dark stretch of the high­way, three armed rob­bers pulled up in a white mini­van and con­fronted them at gun­point, yelling “Policía!”

The two courier guards ex­ited the trac­tor-trailer with­out their guns. The rob­bers gave in­struc­tions in Span­ish, tied the guards’ hands be­hind their backs and led them into nearby woods. The thieves cut the pad­lock on the truck’s trailer and off­loaded five-gal­lon buck­ets that con­tained 10 gold bars. They put them in their van and fled.

The guards were left stranded along I-95 in a ru­ral area about 50 miles east of Raleigh, N.C. The uni­formed men at­tracted the at­ten­tion of mo­torists who re­ported see­ing them run into the high­way as they mo­tioned for help with their hands bound.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors with the Wil­son County Sher­iff’s Of­fice said the March 1 heist “could be an in­side job.”

“The fact that the truck was robbed im­me­di­ately upon it pulling over at an unan­nounced stop is sus­pi­cious in and of it­self,” a sher­iff ’s de­tec­tive wrote in search war­rants for the truck and the driv­ers’ cell­phones. “It is also sus­pi­cious be­cause there [were] no mark­ings on the side of the truck that would in­di­cate the type of cargo con­tained [in­side].

“The sus­pects went di­rectly to the trailer and found the gold, which was in un­marked five-gal­lon buck­ets,” the war­rants said. “It is not be­lieved that this is a ran­dom act due to the na­ture and facts of this rob­bery.”

De­tec­tives noted that the rob­bers even put out or­ange cones near the truck as they un­loaded the gold bars into their van.

At a press con­fer­ence af­ter the heist, Wil­son County Sher­iff Calvin Woodard would not com­mit to the the­ory that it was an in­side job and said the guards were con­sid­ered vic­tims, not sus­pects.

Woodard dis­closed that the two guards had stopped for gas in Dil­lon, South Carolina, near the North Carolina line, around dusk that Sun­day. The sher­iff said one of them started to feel sick from gas fumes. They pulled over so the guard could vomit.

That was when the rob­bers drove up in the mini- van and con­fronted them. The guards ex­ited their trac­tor-trailer with­out their guns. Woodard noted that it was a vi­o­la­tion of their com­pany’s se­cu­rity rules to leave the truck with­out their weapons.

The sus­pects tried to steal the truck but did not know how to op­er­ate it, ac­cord­ing to sher­iff ’s war­rants. They tied up the guards be­fore haul­ing away the gold bars.

Af­ter sher­iff ’s deputies ar­rived at the scene of the heist, a me­chanic found no prob­lem with the truck, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble gas leak.

“The cause for the stop is still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” ac­cord­ing to an FBI press re­lease.

One cu­ri­ous as­pect of the gold-bar heist: The rob­bers left be­hind $5 mil­lion worth of sil­ver on the trac­tor-trailer, ac­cord­ing to the sher­iff’s of­fice war­rants. The sil­ver ship­ment, which weighed about 75 times more than the gold haul, was prob­a­bly too heavy to steal. The sil­ver load also be­longed to Repub­lic Met­als, the war­rants said.

Nei­ther guard was in­jured in the rob­bery. Trans-Value, which spe­cial­izes in trans­port­ing cash, pre­cious met­als, gems and jew­elry and car­ries ship­ment in­sur­ance up to $100 mil­lion, of­fered a $50,000 re­ward for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to an ar­rest.

An ex­ec­u­tive for the com­pany, Je­sus Ro­driguez Jr., did not re­turn a call or email for com­ment on Fri­day

Repub­lic Met­als, founded by Richard Ru­bin in 1980, de­clined to com­ment, re­fer­ring calls to its at­tor­ney, Alan Sil­ver­stein, who did not re­spond to a in­ter­view re­quest.

The North Carolina gold heist is only the lat­est in which Repub­lic Met­als was a vic­tim. The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted in­for­ma­tion to this story.

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