Pavle ‘ Punch’ Sta­n­imirovic

Real Crime - - The Pink Panther Gang -

Jewel Heist Master­mind

Punch grew up want­ing to be a jewel thief like his fa­ther. Trained by ex­pert thieves from a young age, Punch got into the heist game with a vengeance in the late 1980s and early 1990s, be­fore go­ing to prison sev­eral dif­fer­ent times for a to­tal of 16 years.

he ‘ Pink Pan­thers’ are no­to­ri­ous for their Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble- type heists and the Riviera lo­ca­tions where they ply their trade. They seem to mir­ror the set­tings of the comedic In­spec­tor Clouseau’s crime capers of the same name. Nei­ther low- level crim­i­nals nor Mafia gun- thugs, these ‘ gentle­men’ thieves defy crim­i­nal stereo­types. There’s been much spec­u­la­tion as to where they started, who founded the group and how many mem­bers they have, but up un­til now it has re­mained a mys­tery.

All law en­force­ment agen­cies know is that the crew, which has been mak­ing head­lines with dar­ing rob­beries all over the world for the last two decades, is made up of Ser­bians, Bos­ni­ans, Croa­t­ians and Mon­tene­grins – all from the for­mer Yu­goslavia. The true ori­gin of the Ser­bian Pink Pan­thers is a ques­tion that can only be an­swered by a gen­uine Pink Pan­ther. And the fact of the mat­ter is that the group didn’t orig­i­nate in Ser­bia, it ac­tu­ally all started in New York City, on 47th street in Man­hat­tan.

Pavle ‘ Punch’ Sta­n­imirovic was the youngest and high­est rank­ing mem­ber of what some called the Amer­i­can Ser­bian Mafia, what the FBI called their imag­i­nary su­per gang – the YACS ( Yu­gosla­vian/ Al­ba­nian/ Croa­t­ian/ Ser­bian) – and what the in­ter­na­tional me­dia now calls the Pink Pan­thers. Born in New York, raised in Swiss board­ing schools and the son of Ser­bian Mafia God­fa­ther Vo­jislav Sta­n­imirovic, Punch is a blood­line ban­dit and a safe­cracker ex­traor­di­naire.

The Be­gin­ning of a Leg­end

“Ev­ery­thing started with my fa­ther es­cap­ing the for­mer Yu­goslavia,” Punch told Real Crime. “My fa­ther is such a great and charm­ing per­son with so much love. He’s one of the most gen­er­ous peo­ple I’ve ever seen and the last true gen­tle­man thief.” ‘ Mr. Stan’, as he’s known, was a jour­nal­ist by day who was mar­ried to an artis­tic and beau­ti­ful model, his third wife Branka. But he also had friends like mas­ter thief Alex Kar­alanovic, who helped Mr. Stan be­come an in­fa­mous di­a­mond thief in New York City.

“No one spent money like my pops,” Punch said. “He was the first true flexer in this game, a true OG [ orig­i­nal gang­ster] that earned the re­spect of the mob, even John Gotti. He’s a saint for thieves who was deeply imbed­ded in the trade, buy­ing up all the stolen di­a­monds from Euro­pean and Amer­i­can thieves. He’s a big- time poker player who loved to watch box­ing, play chess, and speaks four lan­guages flu­ently.”

Mr. Stan was the or­ches­tra­tor of the famed Viz­caya heist. On 22 March 1971 the Viz­caya was in­fil­trated and more than $ 1.5 mil­lion- worth of his­tor­i­cal art­work and sil­ver was stolen by three in­di­vid­u­als from New York City. It was a dar­ing rob­bery that set the prece­dent for the Pink Pan­thers of the fu­ture – a legacy that started right be­fore Punch was born.

“Ac­cord­ing to Branka, Punch’s mother, the fa­mous mu­seum heist be­gins with noth­ing more than a de­light­ful op­por­tu­nity for a ro­man­tic sun- drenched cel­e­bra­tion of her hus­band’s birth­day,” Burl Barer, author of Steal­ing Man­hat­tan, a forth­com­ing book about Punch, told Real Crime. The US am­bas­sador to Switzer­land, Henry J. Tay­lor, who was friends with Mr. Stan, asked him for a favour – pick up Tay­lor’s new Rolls Royce in Florida at the Viz­caya Mu­seum and Gar­dens and bring it up to Man­hat­tan. The Viz­caya was a fa­mous na­tional his­toric site and was the win­ter res­i­dence of in­dus­tri­al­ist James Deer­ing. “It was de­signed as a pala­tial Ital­ian Villa on trop­i­cal Bis­cayne Bay and Deer­ing filled it with Euro­pean art, state of the art

tech­nol­ogy, and sur­rounded it with beau­ti­ful gar­dens,” Barer ex­plained to us.

“Two first class tick­ets to Fort Laud­erdale Air­port were pur­chased by Mr. Tay­lor and they flew down. Branka was ex­cited to go away with Stan for his birth­day, just the two of them alone to­gether in lovely Florida at the glo­ri­ous, en­chant­ing Viz­caya, fol­lowed by a pleas­ant drive up the coast in Mr. Tay­lor’s Rolls Royce. Branka was one happy pas­sen­ger un­til they were about to re­trieve their lug­gage.”

When Kar­alanovic pulled up to pick them up at the ter­mi­nal, Branka knew it was trou­ble. She re­alised the ro­man­tic hol­i­day she hoped for wasn’t on the cards, but she had no idea she would be par­tic­i­pat­ing in one of the grand­est heists of the cen­tury. By the end of their stay, two Louis Vuit­ton suit­cases of valu­ables would end up in the Rolls Royce they were driv­ing back to New York City.

On 25 March 1971, the three jewel thieves were ar­rested in New York City af­ter Mr. Stan’s Man­hat­tan apart­ment was raided by the NYPD. Po­lice re­cov­ered $ 250,000 of the loot and charged the trio on sus­pi­cion of pos­ses­sion of stolen prop­erty. One of the items was a price­less sil­ver bowl that had once been the prop­erty of Napoleon Bon­a­parte. Po­lice didn’t even know what they had un­cov­ered, and the ma­jor­ity of the Viz­caya booty was never re­cov­ered.

The Rise of the YACS

Punch was born in 1972, and his fa­ther started tu­tor­ing his son in the meth­ods of rob­bery at a young age, be­fore send­ing him off to a Swiss board­ing school. Mr. Stan had de­ter­mined that his son would be a mas­ter safe­cracker, and he made sure the boy had all the tute­lage he would need to suc­ceed in the trade and to blend into so­ci­ety. “I grew up in this crim­i­nal net­work and was the first Amer­i­can Pink Pan­ther,” Punch said. “My fa­ther con­trolled it all with close as­so­ci­ates like ‘ The Pro­fes­sor’ from the be­gin­ning. I started at 16, and it wasn’t un­til I got in­volved in the 1990s that the alarm com­pa­nies were in­fil­trated and made us mil­lions. That’s what I brought to the ta­ble. We have been op­er­at­ing since the 1960s and it was huge, but NYC is where it was born.”

Be­fore they were known as the Pink Pan­thers, the loose con­fed­er­a­tion of bur­glars and gentle­men thieves were

Right Jewels from the Barcelona heist were re­cov­ered when po­lice caught the thieves. The five men wore wigs and wielded sledge­ham­mers while wav­ing guns at the clerksbe­low The Pink Star di­a­mond, sold in 2017 for $ 71.2m, is the most ex­pen­sive gem­stone in the world

ABOVE- left This is Punch with his girl­friend when he was driv­ing su­per­cars and liv­ing the life of a rock star. A mil­lion­aire by the age of 20, he spent money like wa­ter

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