Remembering Miami's Craziest Heists

From The Sting to Oceans 11 to The Inside Man, good heist tales are widely loved in America. Though Miami may not have any masterminding thieves quite as suave as George Clooney and Robert Redford, the Magic City has been home to its fair share of amazing and downright bizarre real-life heists.

Here are three of the craziest one in South Florida history:

The $100,000 Bank of America Heist

A September 2010 robbery at a Bank of America branch on South Dixie Highway in Coral Gables was like something dreamed up by a Hollywood script writer. First, three men held a 25-year-old employee of the bank and his father hostage in their Kendall apartment for about seven hours before taping what they claimed was an explosive device to the young man's chest and back and then driving him to the bank, arriving shortly before 8 a.m.

The men told the employee, Diego Uscamayta, to go inside and retrieve as much money as he could. If he didn't follow instructions, they told him, they'd detonate the device by remote control.

After the robbers fled with about $100,000, the police were called. Soon the area outside the bank was filled with a SWAT team, FBI agents, and a Miami-Dade Police bomb disposal unit.

Once the bank was cleared of employees and customers, hostage negotiators established contact with Uscamayta, who told them about the bomb.

Around 11:30 a.m., two members of the bomb disposal unit were able to remove the device from Uscamayta's body. Police later determined the device was not a real bomb.

One of the bomb unit members was 30-year police veteran James Reddy, who had been a bomb disposal tech for about ten years. He was set to retire in less than a week.

The Miami Herald reported that Reddy's "last bomb call of his career was a first — someone strapped with possible explosives."

After the device was removed, FBI agents spent about eight hours questioning Uscamayta before determining he was not involved in planning the robbery.

Less than two months after the dramatic crime, the Miami Herald reported that with just six weeks remaining in 2010, "the number of bank robberies in South Florida has already surpassed last year's total."

Law enforcement experts suggested that two recently released movies about bank heists at the time — The Town and Takers — might be to blame for the sudden popularity of bank stickups in 2010.

"Some think it's silly, but we're convinced that people are influenced by films like these,'' Supervising Special Agent David Beall told the Herald. 'We have seen enough bank robberies and spoken to enough robbers to know that when we have a rash of bank jobs, it coincides with the release of new films on the subject.''

Six years after the Coral Gables heist, an FBI spokesman tells New Times that no arrests have been made in the case.

The North Carolina Armored Car Gold Heist

The theft of ten gold bars — each weighing 26 pounds and worth close to $5 million — from an armored car in North Carolina in March 2015 immediately raised flags for experienced law enforcement officials.

"There's suspicion about everything going on in this case," a North Carolina sheriff told the media.

The caper also reads like a Hollywood script: According to FBI investigators, 45-year-old Adalberto Perez of Opa-locka first used a stolen credit card to buy a GPS device, which he then hid on an armored car transporting gold from Miami to Massachusetts.

Perez also outfitted the cab of the truck with a remotely activated pepper spray device that sickened the two couriers in the gold-ladened vehicle.

With the robber trailing on the highway, Perez activated the pepper spray in North Carolina. After the couriers pulled over on I-95, they were quickly confronted at gunpoint by three Spanish-speaking men who tied them up and marched them into the woods before making off with the 275-pound cargo of precious metal.

It was almost a perfect crime. But what Perez didn't count on was that his girlfriend, with whom he had shared details about the robbery, was passing that information along to the FBI.

According to the Herald, the girlfriend "told agents that Perez 'chipped away' pieces of the gold bars with hand tools and started selling them that spring through an individual who melted it down for him. Perez sold his entire share of the gold bars and stored the money throughout his home, including a safe."

Perez was arrested this past January. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in March. An accomplice has pleaded guilty to the theft charges.

In May, the Herald reported that the FBI had "an easier time cracking the case than recovering the $5 million worth of [missing] gold."

According to the Herald, FBI agents said Perez "bought two modest Miami-Dade homes with his gold profits, one for $90,000 and another for $118,000. He also purchased three Nissan vehicles for himself, his daughter, and his son, along with a boat for $7,500."

The FBI is still looking for a third accomplice in the heist.

The Unique Pet Shop Heist

Not all Miami heists involve banks and large sums of money. A bizarre 1992 robbery of a South Dade pet shop is no less fascinating for its odd target.

Business had been sluggish at the One Unique Pet Shop in Perrine on a Thursday in January 1992. But as the clock ticked closer to the 6 p.m. closing time, clerk Gregg DeChirico was content to wait patiently as two young men in their late teens moved slowly and methodically among cages containing Burmese pythons, king snakes, and monitor lizards.

And with good reason: The pair had selected reptiles valued at close to $3,000 — a big sale on a slow day.

After DeChirico placed the animals in bags, the men loaded them into a waiting cream-colored Thunderbird.

But instead of paying, one pulled a BB gun, herded DeChirico into a back room of the shop, and ordered him to lie face-down.

Then, according to a Herald story at the time, the two robbers — in polite tones — and "addressing each other with 'pleases' and 'thank yous'" — hogtied DeChirico with twine and covered his nose with cellophane tape."

The older of the two, 19 year-old Mark Waddell, then taped cartridges full of gunpowder to DeChirico's eyes and chin.

According to the Herald, Waddell politely explained, "One of these will take care of your eyes so you can't identify me. The other will take care of your mouth so you can't testify about us."

Waddell lit the fuses of the cartridges before fleeing with his partner, 18-year-old John Gomez.

Somehow, DeChirico was able to free himself, remove the cartridges of explosives from has face, and call 911.

Later that evening, Metro-Dade Police officers tracked down the  Thunderbird in Kendall.

In the back seat, cops found two pipe bombs and the reptiles, still in the bags.

Waddell's shocked parents — after watching a news report about their son's arrest — were sure the cops had the wrong man.

Their son, the Herald reported, "was a full-time student at Miami-Dade Community College studying landscape architecture" and had never been in trouble with the police.

His mother, elementary school principal Clemencia Waddell, told the Herald: "Mark was an altar boy. Then he was an usher. He wouldn't miss church for anything."

But during a search of Waddell's bedroom in his parents' Coral Gables home, cops found three more pipe bombs. "Elsewhere in the room," the Herald reported, "a couple of iguanas roamed free."

Waddell's parents retained noted criminal defense attorney Joel Hirschhorn to defend their son.

Hirschhorn told the Herald that Waddell was "a steady user of LSD."

A 1992 Herald story about the crime reported that LSD was "a hallucinogenic drug popular in the 1950s and '60s."

"In recent years," the Herald patiently explained, "the drug has caught on with a new generation of users."

DeChirico, the terrorized clerk, later told the Herald that he recognized Waddell and Gomez as regulars in the shop and that they "were interested solely in aggressive, carnivorous reptiles."

More than three years after the crime — in March 1995 — Waddell was found guilty of armed robbery, false imprisonment, and attempted first-degree murder; a few months later, he was sentenced to 24 years in state prison. John Gomez had already been sentenced to 17 years for the crime.

Waddell was released from prison in November 2003.
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Bill Cooke was a life-long Miami resident until his death in 2017.