In 1990, an armored car driver stopped to get her usual donut and cup of coffee.
However, by the time she had returned, her partner and the truck had been taken hostage by two masked men. The robbers made off with the money, but no one is exactly sure what happened to stolen cash. Some say the nearly $11 million dollar armored car heist may have even been an inside job…
On June 26, 1990, an armored car was on the way to a scheduled delivery in Rochester, New York. Inside the truck was nearly $11 million dollars in cash. At around 7:00 AM, the truck made what was considered a usual, though unauthorized stop at a local convenience store.
“We stopped there about once or twice a week and usually got about the same thing,” said Mary Wilson, the second driver of the vehicle. On that particular morning, the convenience store seemed bereft of commuters, so Mary took her time making her coffee and fetching some for her partner, Albert Raneiri. It seemed like just a normal Tuesday…
While Wilson was inside buying coffee and doughnuts, the hijackers struck. A broad man in a Halloween mask snuck up to the idling van and put a gun to Albert’s head. The man’s partner, who was similarly armed, forced his way into the back of the truck. Five minutes later, Mary Wilson returned to the truck, unaware that her partner was inside, sweating at the end of two gun barrels.
Before she even knew what was happening, Mary was forced into the truck with her partner. “It happened so fast, I didn’t really get a chance to get scared,” she said of the experience. Mary was forced onto the floor of the armored van. Her wrists and ankles were tied with plastic zip ties and she was gagged to prevent her calling for help.
With a gun still pressed to his head, Albert Ranieri was forced to drive to a separate location. Though it was only a mile and a half from the convenience store, Mary’s mind swam with all sorts of grim possibilities. Albert checked in his rear-view mirror and noticed something peculiar. A gray van was now following them.
The Secret Location
The hijacked car’s destination was a secluded one, approximately one hundred yards off the road. It was clear that the site had been prepared ahead of time. There were several freshly-cut tree branches cleared away behind a small hill to make room for the armored car and the mysterious gray van following it…
At last, both vans had come to a halt behind the hill. Albert soon joined Mary on the floor of the armored car, similarly trussed-up and tied. At least one other accomplice, likely the driver of the gray van, joined the masked robbers. No one spoke. The armored car’s payload was stolen away with silent, prompt efficiency.
Mary and Albert were left, tied up and on top of one another, on the floor of the now empty armored car. The men had driven off in their gray van and all was quiet once more. “I was scared for my life,” recalls Mary Wilson. “I kept thinking about my son and I just thought I was going to die.” Mary was determined to survive, to break free…
Escaping the Robbers
Fifteen minutes later, and with a strength she didn’t realize she possessed, Mary Wilson ripped through the plastic handcuffs. Unfortunately, Albert had been tied too tightly and she was unable to free him on her own. She drove the armored truck to company headquarters and reported the robbery. It was barely 8 AM. In less than an hour, the thieves had made off with nearly $11 million dollars.
Without a Trace
The gray getaway van was discovered five miles away on the following day. Apparently, the thieves had celebrated their victory in route because the van’s interior was littered with over $13,000 in small bills. Only a limited number of people were aware of the enormous amount of untraceable cash being transported that day, and one of them was Albert Ranieri…
The robbers took 1,500 to 1,700 lbs of actual money, which was worth $10.8 million at the time, or close to $19.6 million in today’s market. And though neither guard was hurt in the robbery, it seemed that the experience had a profound effect on Mary more than Albert. A fact which the authorities hadn’t failed to notice.
An Inside Job
The coincidences were starting look more and more like the deliberate details of an inside job. A conveniently broken porthole in the armored car had allowed one robber to hold the driver at gunpoint. And it also seemed that the other robber used a key to get in through the truck’s side door. On top of that, both gunmen wore clothing which was nearly identical to the uniforms worn by Wilson and Ranieri. But if that was the case, where did they get them?
Continued pressure from the investigation eventually uncovered the truth; the Rochester robbery was indeed an inside job. Several years after the robbery, Albert Ranieri pleaded guilty to the heist. Yet even facing charges for the robbery and unrelated racketeering charges, Ranieri refused to name his accomplices.
Authorities apparently had a right to be suspicious of Ranieri. The former driver had a history of violent, though minor offenses, including shooting a pool hall owner that he believed was stealing money from him. The investigators also believed that Albert’s father, Albert B. Ranieri Jr., might have been involved in the Rochester robbery as well. Ranieri was arrested and sentenced in 2000…
Ranieri was convicted and received 30 years, but still refused to give up anyone else on his team. Very little of the money was recovered, even after his plea. Eighty-seven-thousand dollars was recovered from his home, and he admitted to burning another $100,000 in his barbeque. Ranieri had apparently attempted to launder some of the money as well. The FBI says that the investigation is ongoing, although the five-year statute of limitation on the robbery has since expired.
The Gibbons Heist
Rochester also saw another huge heist some years later. In 1993, the Rochester Brinks robbery occurred in the same town. On a spring afternoon, an AMSA truck drove away from a downtown Rochester bank branch. Money from the branch was locked into the rear of the truck and packed in blue, plastic trays. Well, the money was supposed to be locked into the rear of the truck…
The money had disappeared without a trace and without any real clues. Ronnie Gibbons, a man connected to the heist, had also gone missing. Police reviewed a downtown surveillance camera and saw a woman picking up a blue tray from the street, loading it into her car and driving away. Within days, a lawyer representing the woman in question visited Rochester’s FBI office with the blue tray holding $200,000. The woman wished to return the money. She was not criminally charged.
AMSA officials decided to drop the federal case and began conducting an internal investigation, citing security reasons. They refused to comment on their procedures for transporting money or on Ronnie Gibbons. They also declined to say whether the truck’s back door or latch were defective. This second mysterious crime was also never solved, adding to Rochester’s reputation as a haven for armored car thieves.
Compared to 1990
Though not the scale of the $7.4 million Brinks depot robbery in 1993, or the $10.8 million Armored Motor Services of America robbery in Henrietta in 1990, the Rochester Brinks robbery was no less as mysterious. The criminals behind it conducted it with speed and skill and got away scot free.
In 1998, there was more than $15 million still missing from those two crimes. And today, 16 years later, that has not changed. To this day, the Rochester Armored Car robbery remains the largest on-the-road armored car robbery in United States history.