An infamous heist revisited: How the crew got caught

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Jan. 5. I’m Justin Ray.

This is the third story in a series about the Dunbar Armored robbery 25 years ago. Here are the first and second installments.

The men behind the robbery didn’t slip up. They maintained a low profile and avoided purchases that would arouse suspicion.

Millions were used to buy automobiles and houses. To elaborate on the latter, they used straw buyers to acquire at least 10 homes during public auctions of foreclosed properties. Some of the houses were rented out while others were occupied by the suspects’ families.

A few hundred thousand dollars were spent gambling in Las Vegas.

IRS agents later would trace about $2 million to a company established by a man named Eugene Lamar Hill Jr., of Bellflower, and Thomas Lee Johnson, of Las Vegas, to launder the stolen money. Under the name Rain Forest, most of the money was used to buy an incinerator that purportedly burned trash without causing air pollution, and paid themselves a salary totaling more than $100,000.

Despite the daring robbery, what ended up solving it was not that exciting: An informant identified Hill as the person who rented a 14-foot U-Haul truck a day before the heist and had returned it a day later. It didn’t help that when Hill was later arrested he had a stack of bills bearing the same money wrappers as those taken in the Dunbar robbery. Hill confessed and pointed authorities to the other suspects.

Each of the men was charged with conspiracy to commit the robbery, using a gun during a crime of violence and interfering with interstate commerce. Johnson faced an additional 24 counts of money laundering.

A row of Dunbar Armored trucks in August 2017.

A row of Dunbar Armored trucks in August 2017.

(TRIPPLAAR KRISTOFFER/SIPA/Sipa USA via AP)

During the trial, Pace testified in his own defense, saying that he was being framed by another defendant “because I was messing with his wife.” Because, after all, a womanizer is not necessarily a robber.

The father of one of the men testified against his son. Erik Damon Boyd, of Buena Park, did not take the stand himself but his father, Steve, said his son told him to launder about $177,000 in cash that came from a drug deal, but his son later admitted it was from the Dunbar Armored depot.

In my closing article, I reveal what happened to Allen Pace III, and the one enduring mystery about the crime. I’ll see you tomorrow!

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

The most affordable from The Times’ list of 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. We recently unveiled our picks for the best restaurants in Los Angeles. Well, we have followed that up with an abbreviated list including the least costly eateries from our compilation. Los Angeles Times

The Pork Katsu Sando from Chinatown’s Katsu Sando.

The Pork Katsu Sando from Chinatown’s Katsu Sando.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

The Congressional Black Caucus said Tuesday that it was naming an aide to Vice President Kamala Harris as its new executive director. Vince Evans is returning to Capitol Hill after nearly a year in the vice president’s office as Harris’ deputy director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs. Evans is among a string of staff departures from Harris’ office in recent months as she confronts the high expectations and scrutiny that accompany being vice president. Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

A $25-million verdict in a wrongful-death lawsuit should make drivers more aware about sharing the road safely with bicyclists, according to an attorney in the civil case. A judge ordered the big award for the mother of cyclist Cristobal “Cris” Heitmann Montero of Redding. He was killed in a head-on crash with a motorcyclist. Richard Machado, then 28, of Cottonwood, was riding west on a 2001 Honda motorcycle in 2018 when he crossed over the double yellow line into Heitmann’s path, according to an accident report. In his criminal case, Machado pleaded no contest in June 2020 to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and driving without a valid motorcycle license. “This case really hopefully does send a message that the lives of cyclists matter and the lives of cyclists have value, and it’s really dangerous out there on the road,” said attorney Kyle Smith of the Coopers LLP law firm. Redding Record Searchlight

For more than a minute, a San Ramon police dog named Dexter gripped the arm of Egyptian immigrant and Uber driver Ali Badr. In that moment, captured on dashboard and body-camera videos obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, Badr was unarmed, barefoot and not resisting. He suffered painful, permanent injuries in the incident. Badr was treated as a potential car thief that day in December 2020. The videos are evidence in a federal lawsuit Badr filed last month against the city of San Ramon. Police Chief Craig Stevens said in an email that his department conducted an internal investigation into the arrest of Badr, but he declined to answer other questions. San Francisco Chronicle

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Kelly Ernby, a political newcomer who ran for an Orange County state Assembly seat two years ago as a Republican, died this week of COVID-19. Los Angeles Times

The number of coronavirus-positive patients has spiked dramatically across Southern California since Christmas — but some health officials are noting important differences in how the latest surge is playing out in hospitals compared with last winter’s devastating wave. In Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties, the coronavirus-positive patient count has more than doubled in the last nine days. And in L.A. and San Bernardino counties, the daily hospital census has surpassed the peak seen during last summer’s spike. “The difference we are seeing this year is largely due to the fact that we have a higher number of individuals who have been vaccinated and boosted,” the Department of Health Services wrote in a statement to The Times. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

A Marine lieutenant colonel and sergeant will face disciplinary hearings this week, accused of failures that led to the deaths of eight Marines and a sailor off the San Diego coast. Lt. Col. Michael Regner, the former commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team 1/4, will face a board of inquiry into the matter starting this week. Separately, the unnamed former platoon sergeant of the Bravo Company platoon involved in the sinking will face an administrative separation board. On July 30, 2020, Marines training with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit left the amphibious transport dock ship Coronado in vehicles to train on San Clemente Island. Vehicles had mechanical problems while there, including the one that sank. A Marine Corps investigation found that Regner should have known his unit’s assault amphibious vehicles were in poor material condition and should not have been operating in the ocean. San Diego Union-Tribune

Academic duo encourages the public to embrace mutual care. Manuel Pastor and Chris Benner are both professors and public policy experts. In their recently published co-authored book, “Solidarity Economics: Why Mutuality and Movements Matter,” they provide a framework for understanding why an economy based on solidarity rather than competition can benefit the vast majority. The book can be downloaded for free here. Capital & Main talked to the duo about the creation of the work, the concept of economic mutuality and how we can redefine our ideas about growth and GDP. Capital & Main

‘I like the effect of being high’: Learn how to roll a joint like a rock star with L.A. roots. David Crosby talks to The Times’ Adam Tschorn about cannabis culture, making music, social media and getting stoned. Los Angeles Times

David Crosby

David Crosby.

(Los Angeles Times)

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny 48 San Diego: Sunny 64 San Francisco: Cloudy 56 San Jose: Cloudy 59 Fresno: Overcast 53 Sacramento: Overcast 56. Check out what University of California San Diego has.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Frank Sheffield:

At my age nine our family was living across the street from a monstrous orange grove in Santa Ana. One day I came home from school to find most of the trees had been pulled up by the roots, ripened fruit still attached. My friends and I abandoned our usual recreation — BB gun wars in the irrigation ditches — for orange-bomb attacks. I used a hacksaw to cut the missiles, so they splattered more in direct hits. Even at that age I wondered how anyone could destroy all that fruit without giving neighbors notice to do a good harvest.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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