20 Years of heists
Since 1999 the Pink Panthers have been responsible for over 380 robberies across 35 countries, with a total value of over 334 million euros
I got my name ‘ Punch’ for this specific safe door that I can get into in less than 16 seconds
known as the YACS, who the New York Times called “a well- organized, highly disciplined group of commercial safe burglars” of Yugoslavian, Albanian, Croatian and Serbian descent, who were linked to hundreds of heists.
“I was born directly under and grew up in this criminal organisation that the feds placed all in one group,” Punch told us, “and labelled with the name ‘ YACS’. Every Pink Panther heist anywhere in the world uses methods, techniques and ideas created either by my father or me. The infamous ‘ 26 seconds or less smash and grab’ was one of my contributions, but one my father did not endorse.”
In the 1990s, the New York metropolitan area was hit hard by the YACS. The thieves could steal an ATM out of a bank lobby in under one minute and shift the focus of their operations from banks to jewellery stores at the drop of a hat. The YACS would plan for every possible outcome – even the possibility of being arrested. The thieves operated under aliases, had passports in different names and fluently spoke multiple languages.
Extensive surveillance would be done before the robbers entered a store on the weekend or in the middle of the night. Punch even recalled setting off alarm systems on purpose to see how long it would take the police to respond. With lookouts watching nearby, the YACS would pry open safes and ATMs with crowbars or sledge hammers. The thieves would monitor police scanners and use walkie- talkies to communicate. When caught, the YACS wouldn’t cooperate with law enforcement and would refuse to give up any information to the police.
“I served more prison time than anyone else in our sophisticated crew because I was the only American citizen,” Punch, who did 16 years inside the ‘ belly of the beast’, told Real Crime. “The rest were all deported. And that’s exactly how it became famous and mainstream in London, England, around 2003, when the Pink Panthers became known. A few pissed off soldiers from the former Yugoslavia republic gave a green light to steal in Europe and linked up with
‘ The Engineer’ and others like Bruno Sulak and Stiv, who’ve become legends in Europe.”
Punch said that despite the news reports of the Pink Panthers numbering over 500, there were only six original members. The rest were hired hands and very often they didn’t even know who had hired them, instructed them, trained them or told them exactly what to do and how to do it. He claimed that The Engineer was the head honcho in Europe and was the one who started the Pink Panthers’ robbery spree in the early 2000s that stretched from Dubai, Paris, Tokyo, to London.
The Greatest Living Safecracker
“My first score was a gem heist that I brought to my father at only 16,” Punch told us. “I’d been preparing for this since I was around seven years old, but really my entire life. I was ready to do this, and the next day I was officially rich and had my own money. I did this India Star company, a gem distributor. This was in 1989. It was a piece of cake and I popped my cherry. I knew what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life, and it was exciting as fuck. The safe was a punch vault.
“That’s how I got my name ‘ Punch’, for this specific safe door that I can get into in less than 16 seconds. I was like an Olympian, and burned through 47th Street in the Diamond District in New York City, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars- worth of jewels. I was born rich so I didn’t do it for
the money. It was a challenge and a big game. There was nothing like it in the world. It was an exciting life without a single boring day.”
Punch learned how to crack a safe from ‘ The Moth’.
They would practise drilling open different types of safe in a warehouse in Hoboken, New Jersey, and seeing how quickly they could get it done by timing everything. Punch told us it’s all about the planning and looking for strategic soft spots in the security detail. He would find those flaws and expose them. He said that many of the guys that have worked for the Pink Panthers didn’t even know who they were working for, that there was only a handful of guys who were the shotcallers behind the heists.
Punch said the Balkan Wars, which broke up the former Yugoslavia, starting in 1991, supplied him and the other brains in the organisation with an endless supply of soldiers – not criminals or gangsters, but soldiers who were ready to follow directions explicitly. These soldiers didn’t know how to burglarise diamond stores, but they learned quickly and followed orders precisely.
The number one rule, handed down by Mr. Stan and followed by Punch, was that no one gets hurt in the robberies. “Any scum can pull the trigger or hurt someone for money,” Punch told Real Crime. “But not one person ever got hurt when we stole things. It was like being James Bond… We robbed luxury watch stores, jewellery and diamond stores, high- end clothing stores, whatever we wanted. In the 1990s we were stealing Manhattan.”
Punch ended up doing most of his prison time in upstate New York, but he was in the federal prisons too. By 1994 he was inside, and he would do several bids before he decided to retire from crime in 2012. He never cooperated with authorities and held his head high in prison, despite doing time at violent prisons upstate and at Rikers Island. A lot of his cohorts were arrested and did state time in New York and in federal prisons, but when they were released they returned to Europe, which was how the Pink Panther legend was born.
Mission Impossible- Type jewellery Heists
Punch has done hundreds of robberies that have netted him duffel bags of precious and semi- precious gem stones: emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. They include the infamous Regency Hotel heist in Manhattan in 1992, where 36 out of 150 safety deposit boxes were robbed. But his cohorts in the Pink Panthers have gone on to orchestrate Hollywood movie- type banditry in Europe.
From the 2013 Carlton Intercontinental Hotel heist during the Cannes Film Festival, to the robbery at the upscale Wafi mall in Dubai in 2007 and the London jewellery score that put them on the map in 2003, the crew has used daring, subterfuge, speed and precision planning to carry on the methods begun by Mr. Stan and Punch in New York City. They have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars- worth of valuables between them.
“Today we are retired people who are left with a crazy true story, Punch said. “I have no regrets. It was justified to me because I got this special thing inside me that makes me do things that I’m not supposed to do. You might see ‘ Danger Do Not Enter’, but I see ‘ explore the shit out of it’.” Punch has been crime- free since 2003, but still applauds his cohorts’ exploits. He has watched from the sideline in the USA as the thing his father started has taken on a life of its own.
below- left Nebojsa Denic and Milan Jovetic were arrested following the theft of £ 23 million of jewellery from Mayfair, London in 2003
opposite The Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes in France was robbed of £ 90 million in 2013 during the Cannes Film Festival by thePink Panthers – the crew’s most lucrative heist
below Alleged Pink Panther Rakjo Causevic was arrested in Montenegro’s capital city, Podgorica, in 2015, after allegedly burgling the residence of the Croatian ambassador