At the start of the new millennium a group of men terrorized Las Vegas, leaving a path of destruction in the desert and investigators scrambling to stop a series of armored truck heists that plagued Sin City.
- Amazon.com: Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip to the Tune of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars, and $3 Million eBook: Huddy, John: Kindle Store
- Armored car hit at MGM
- Cops check armored-car holdups – Las Vegas Sun Newspaper
- Police arrest two in series of brazen casino robberies
- Bellagio robbery suspects to face trial
- Two Plead Not Guilty in Holdup of Las Vegas Casino
- Suspect in Bellagio robbery found dead in jail cell
- Vegas casino robbers may be linked to security guards’ deaths
- Tests planned in effort to link heists with murders
- Robbery gun tied to guard killings in Vegas armored truck heist
- Casino Robbery Mastermind Tried for Killings, Heists
- Movie will profile Vegas crime spree
- Killer gets 4 life terms
- To Catch a Thief
- How much money do Las Vegas casinos make?.
- Police continue to search for additional heist suspects
- Grand jury will decide armored car case
- Suspects to be arraigned in Bellagio heist
- Suspect in Bellagio robbery found dead in jail cell
- Tests planned in effort to link heists with murders
- Suspected heist leader has history of violence
- Robbers Shoot Two Guards on Las Vegas Strip
- Gunman Opens Fire on Strip in Attack on Armored Truck
- Armored Car Heist Botched in Las Vegas
- Armored Car Heist
- Police Confident of Nabbing Killers of 2 Armored Guards
- Police Suspect Bellagio Robbers in Other Heists
- Police Arrest Two in Series of Brazen Casino Robberies
- Arrests Made in 5 Robberies in Las Vegas
- Investigators Seek Links Between Casino Robberies, Slain Guards
- Heist Suspect Identified
- Man Ordered to Stand Trial on Charges of Bellagio Robbery
- New Evidence Delivered in Armored Car Slayings
- Las Vegas Casino Robberies Tied to a Trend Toward Violence
- Hearings Begin in Slayings, Casino Robberies
- Vegas Casino Robbery Mastermind Sentenced
- Robbery Driver Guilty
- Third Man Convicted in Vegas Casino Robbery Ring Case
Las Vegas, Nevada is a city where dreams are made and lost.
It’s the place you go with only a few dollars in your pocket and can leave with many more. The opposite is also true…more times than not.
Las Vegas keeps your secrets, or so they say… “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” Right? But for all of its charm, promises, glitz, and glamour. Sin City can’t completely hide the fact that it’s in the middle of an unbearable desert…
A desert that owes a lot of credit to the mob for transforming it from a dust bowl to a dazzling boom town.
Crime families from the American Midwest and East Coast are historically credited for financing many of the popular hotels and casinos that line the Las Vegas Strip.
In modern times, the Mob’s influence has reportedly waned…and their iron grip around Vegas has been replaced by several large corporations.
In 2019, Pay Space Magazine estimated that the largest casinos in the city earned nearly $22 billion in revenue… $22 BILLION…
That much money flowing in and out of businesses every day has made Vegas a hunting ground for ruthless thieves who target money while it’s in transit.
This is Armored… the untold stories of murder, mayhem, and million-dollar heists.
Today’s episode revolves around a violent robbery crew that targeted armored trucks in Sin City with military precision.
Their tactics and tragic actions left a lot of blood in the desert and dimmed the appeal of the bright lights of Vegas during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
11:00 am on Monday, May 25th, 1998 was like every other morning for two Brinks armored truck guards picking up cash from Sunset Station Hotel and Casino in Henderson, Nevada.
Henderson is a suburb about 25 minutes Southeast of Las Vegas.
According to John Huddy’s reporting in his book “Storming Las Vegas”, while the two guards were exiting the casino pushing a cart of money, three masked men wielding firearms hopped out of a Oldsmobile sedan and rushed at them.
The unsuspecting Brinks employees quickly took cover on the opposite side of their armored truck and instinctively drew their service weapons, planning to return fire if they were shot at.
In a strange twist, just as the masked men were about to hold them up, the suspects retreated to their vehicle because it was slowly drifting away from them.
In the chaos of the moment, the crooks’ getaway driver had forgotten to put the vehicle in park which caused it to slowly creep forward once the gunmen hopped out.
The driver of the armored truck capitalized on the moment of distraction and rammed into the back of the sedan which essentially thwarted the whole robbery.
The commotion frightened off the bandits and they quickly jumped back into their damaged car and tore off out of the area.
When law enforcement arrived on scene, clues were slim and the frightened guards had no way of providing helpful descriptions of the would-be robbers because like I said, the guys were wearing all black.
The attempted robbery case quickly went cold.
A few months later, on September 20th, 1998, a similar group of robbers struck again – this time, at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The MGM Grand is one of the largest and most popular tourist establishments in the world…making it a prime target for thieves looking to boost cash quickly.
According to the Las Vegas Sun, around 11:22 am on that Sunday, two Brink’s armored truck guards parked their truck on the Southside of the casino.
The men were making a routine pickup and, per hotel protocol, a casino security guard was escorting them as they made their way through a service tunnel in the building, headed back to the Brinks truck.
While the trio was walking through the building’s passageway they were ambushed by two gunmen who’d emerged from a side door of the casino.
Reports state that in a matter of seconds the suspects disarmed the guards and the MGM employee and managed to snatch $350,000 they were transporting on a cart.
Before anyone could get their bearings or call for help, the assailants were gone. Last seen running towards the parking lot of a neighboring casino.
When Las Vegas Metro Police officers and regional FBI agents arrived on scene, they spoke with the victims and got an unexpected lucky break. Both guards and a random casino worker who’d been taking a smoke break nearby said the robbers were two young Hispanic males.
The two places investigators went to search for clues were security camera headquarters inside the MGM Grand and the parking lot across the street.
Investigators saw on exterior camera footage that right after the robbery, the two thieves had run across the street and jumped into a newer-model white Chevy pickup truck.
The Elko Daily Press reported that a third accomplice was in the driver’s seat of that truck and had been waiting for the pair’s arrival.
According to the FBI, the poor-quality of the video made it impossible to read the license plate number on the pickup truck. The only thing agents got were the first three numbers…everything else was garbled.
In one of the parking spaces, investigators recovered a service pistol that had belonged to one of the Brink’s guards. The other guard’s gun was nowhere in sight.
The next helpful clue authorities found was on footage from a camera inside of the MGM Grand Casino hall.
According to a segment of FBI Files, investigators watched the tape and saw the two gunman had been inside of the casino lying in wait loitering around the access door to the hotel’s passageway right before the robbery.
John Huddy wrote in his book that the pair entered the casino wearing body armor underneath their clothing which made them look bulky. For a few minutes they walked around some blackjack tables and slot machines, all the while slowly making their way toward the access door that led outside to the service tunnel.
At the right moment, they’d both emerged and confronted the Brinks guards and MGM employee.
To law enforcement investigating the case, the robbers’ approach seemed pretty brazen. It proved the men were organized and efficient and knew how to hide in plain sight.
The criminal’s precision proved to be frustrating for authorities, because several months went by and the investigation went nowhere. The only clue that emerged was that FBI agents narrowed down some information about the Chevy pickup truck and determined that the license that had been put on it was stolen from a car from a storage lot a town away.
According to a segment of FBI Files, when investigators followed up with the manager of that lot they were told to speak to a night watchman by the name of Jose Vigoa.
At the time, agents weren’t able to speak with Jose directly. They left their card and asked the storage company to have him call them. Jose never called and authorities determined that lead had dried up.
The better part of a year passed with no incidents similar to what happened at the MGM Grand, but on June 28th, 1999 that all changed. In a very violent way.
On that scorching summer day at 9:45 am, a Brink’s truck that had been making cash pickups all morning made its last stop at the historic Desert Inn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
According to reporting by John Huddy, the truck was carrying more than $7 million in cash, and was scheduled to deposit a lot of that money at the Desert Inn’s finance office.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that after the armored truck’s driver parked the vehicle on the Southside of the casino, two guards named Chuck Fichter and Donald Bowman hopped out of the back and started removing bags of cash from the cargo area.
Seconds after that, two men dressed in black emerged from some nearby shrubbery and attacked the guards. The assailants were armed with an AK-47 rifle and a .45 caliber pistol.
Without hesitation the robbers started firing at Chuck and Donald and hit both of them in their arms and legs.
Thankfully, one of the injured guards was able to throw himself inside the armored truck and hide, while the other took refuge on the other side of the truck and started shooting back at the robbers.
At some point, the suspects realized they weren’t going to get what they wanted, so they took off.
The wounded guards also sped away in their armored truck, but not in an aimless direction. The injured men headed straight to a nearby hospital.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that both Chuck and Donald survived their gunshot wounds and made full recoveries. A frightening detail also reported by the newspaper was that several of the gunshots that had rang out during the firefight peppered the front of the Frontier Hotel and Casino across the street from the Desert Inn.
Fortunately, no one was hit by those rounds…which is kind of a miracle when you think about how busy Las Vegas is.
According to the Elko Daily Free Press, the Las Vegas Metro Police Department and the FBI responded to the scene within a matter of minutes and started investigating.
One of the first things they did was collect several shell casings from the scene. Several of the spent shells matched the guard’s guns…but a lot of them didn’t and authorities were easily able to tell the rounds came from high-powered rifles.
After talking with witnesses and reviewing surveillance video, they determined that the two gunmen had arrived at the Desert Inn roughly six hours before the robbery. They’d spent that entire time sweating and crouched, hidden in the shrubbery outside of the South entrance.
Again, police recognized that whoever the assailants were, they were committed. Investigators also surmised that the men had likely scouted out the location ahead of time in order lay in wait for an armored truck.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the authorities learned from a hotel employee that the robbers had gotten away in a tan Izuzu Rodeo SUV.
According to The FBI Files, ten minutes after arriving to the crime scene, a man walking his dog at a nearby motel called 911 to report that he’d seen three men jump into a dark-colored pickup truck in the hotel’s parking lot and hotwire it.
This witness had no idea that an armored truck robbery and shooting had just taken place at the Desert Inn a few miles away.
FBI agents knew that this witness’s report was pretty important though, so they hurried over to meet with him. Sure enough, in the parking lot of the motel agents found an abandoned SUV that matched the description of the robbers’ getaway vehicle.
The witness told police that while he had been watching the three men, they appeared to struggle to start a pickup they’d piled into after getting out of the tan SUV.
FBI agents noticed that there was a similar-looking pickup truck to the one the witness described seeing the men get into parked right next to the empty spot that the three men had left from.
On the back of that pickup truck was a license plate fixed over another license plate with a rubber band.
FBI agents had a stunning realization.
They believed the three suspects had planted a getaway pickup truck in the motel’s parking lot before the robbery and fully intended on ditching the tan SUV, but when they’d arrived after the robbery, they transferred themselves and the stolen money into the wrong secondary getaway truck.
They’d basically confused their second getaway vehicle with another car. That’s why they’d had such a hard time starting the pickup they took off in.
When the FBI processed the pickup truck that WAS left behind that had the two license plates rubber banded to the back of it, they determined it belonged to an ex-con named Pedro Duarte.
The witness who’d been walking his dog helped the FBI develop composite sketches of the three men he’d seen…but he couldn’t positively identify an old mug shot of Pedro.
Hoping they could advance the case in some way…FBI agents visited Pedro the next day.
They were aiming to question him about why his truck with a stolen license plate rubber-banded to it was found in a motel parking lot.
According to the episode of FBI Files on this case, when Pedro opened his front door…he was a dead ringer for one of the composite sketches. That definitely made FBI agents feel like they were headed in the right direction.
Pedro claimed that the reason his truck was at the motel was because it had been stolen. When authorities checked that story out, they did find a stolen car report for it…BUT that report had been filed hours after the attempted robbery at the Desert Inn and Casino.
When FBI agents pressed Pedro further, he began expressing that he could not understand English. When agents brought in someone who could speak Spanish, he continued to act as if there was a language barrier and claimed the police were discriminating against him.
Just like in all of the other robberies or attempted robberies thus far, law enforcement investigators were unable to get any solid leads on the true identities of the violent robbers and they had nothing to hold Pedro on… Sure, they had their suspicions and definitely had some bad vibes about Pedro…but they lacked hard evidence.
So, they had to move on.
A few months after the Desert Inn shooting…on October 11th, 1999 a group of robbers struck at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Vegas…and you guessed it, they used the same M-O that investigators had seen before.
The FBI Files reported that at the Mandalay, the robbers ambushed two Brinks guards in a service passageway that could be accessed through the main hall of the casino. The guards were picking up approximately $90,000 in cash when the two gunmen carrying pistols emerged from an area near the slot machines and threatened the Brinks employees.
The robbers were wearing cheap disguises and quickly disarmed the guards and grabbed the money. The suspects then took off down the hotel’s passageway in the direction of the casino’s parking area.
When police initially responded, they learned that the assailants had jumped into a Jeep Cherokee SUV and fled the area. Information gathered about that vehicle showed it had been stolen from a rental car lot several weeks prior.
By this point, detectives wholeheartedly believed they were dealing with the same robbery crew…they just couldn’t prove it.
What didn’t help matters were large inconsistencies with several eyewitness statements…which included some people saying they thought the robbers were white men…while other believed they were black or Hispanic. There were even some reports that the suspects’ heights and weights varied drastically. Some of those accounts came from the guards who’d been robbed…which isn’t to say the guards weren’t being truthful, but those men had endured a lot of stress in the moment and it was hard for police to know for sure that their recollection of what the assailants looked like was truly accurate.
Of all of the robberies so far, news reports state that the Mandalay Bay robbery resulted in the least amount of money being stolen.
Because other cases had involved serious violence and a lot more money, the Mandalay Bay job wasn’t a high priority for investigators at the time. They added it to their pile of ongoing investigations but it wasn’t a huge focus.
Prioritizing which cases rose to the top of law enforcement’s stack took a drastic turn in March of 2000,a few weeks after the Mandalay Bay robbery.
The Spring of the new millennium changed everything for investigators chasing these ruthless robbers through Las Vegas…
On March 3rd, 2000 Armored Transport Company courier, 23-year-old Gary Prestidge II and driver, 47-year-old Ricardo Sosa were making their usual rounds to and from stores and casinos in Henderson, Nevada.
According to news reports, Ricardo wasn’t normally partnered up with Gary. Earlier that week, the courier he usually worked with had called in sick with the flu, so management swapped out that guy and replaced him with Gary.
Ricardo was an immigrant from El Salvador who’d worked for a long time as a driver for Armored Transport. He had significantly more years on the job than Gary did and so far, the week had gone pretty smoothly, that is except for one thing.
On several occasions that week Ricardo and Gary had noticed they were being followed.
According to the book “Storming Las Vegas”…both guards had reported to their superiors that they believed a group of Hispanic men had been stalking them as they made their daily stops. Nothing in news reports indicates that the Armored Transport Company did anything to address these concerns.
The lack of intervention proved to be fatal.
Around 11:30 am on March 3rd, Ricardo parked the armored truck outside of a Ross clothing store and Gary got out and went inside. A few minutes later, Gary reappeared with a bag of money in his hand and started walking towards the rear of the armored truck.
Before he made it back, three men carrying guns swarmed him and the company truck from different directions. Reports state that two of the men were focused more on the truck itself, while the third beelined directly to Gary.
In that moment, Gary must have known what was about to go down because police reports state that he quickly drew his service weapon and started firing shots at the suspects. The robbers returned fire but the shots missed Gary.
According to John Huddy’s reporting, one of the gunman was hit in the leg and started stumbling away from the truck towards a light-colored sedan. In the chaos of the moment, one of the suspects who was carrying an AK-47 rifle fired several rounds at Gary and shot him in the torso and limbs.
While the attack on Gary was underway, one the other suspects focused on Ricardo who was sitting helpless in the driver’s seat.
According to an article in the Las Vegas Sun, when Ricardo first heard gunshots he’d opened one of the truck’s doors to look out and see what was going on with Gary. It was at that point, one of the robbers ambushed him and shot him multiple times inside the truck. He never even had the chance to reach for his service weapon.
After killing both guards, the robbers grabbed a few bags of money from the armored truck’s cargo area, then took off in a light-color sedan.
News reports state that several terrified customers who were inside the Ross clothing store waited for the suspects to leave, then ran outside to try and revive Gary and Ricardo. Sadly, their efforts didn’t help. The two men were gone.
Within a matter of minutes, law enforcement responded to the scene and learned the details of what had happened.
Aside from the eyewitness statements, the most helpful clue was a trail of blood they found in the parking lot leading to the area where witnesses said they saw the robbers’ maroon sedan take off. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, there was no doubt in the police’s mind at that point that at least one of the suspects had been severely injured during the robbery.
This was a good thing because eventually that person was going to have to seek medical attention to address their wound. Not to mention, law enforcement knew they’d be able to collect his DNA and blood type thanks to the trail he’d left behind.
Right away detectives alerted local hospitals to be on the lookout for anyone with a gunshot wound who was coming in for treatment…but no one did.
Surveillance video and other information gathered from the crime scene helped the police determine that hours before the robbery, the gunmen had arrived to the Ross’ parking lot in two separate minivans.
Henderson’s police chief, a guy named Michael Mayberry told the Las Vegas Sun quote— “This was obviously planned out. They knew the truck was coming and knew where to park the minivans, so Gary Prestidge had to walk in between them. Anyone going into that store from the parking lot had to walk in between those minivans.”— end quote.
It didn’t take long before police learned that the getaway car the robbers were seen leaving in had been stolen. A few hours after the robbery, media outlets reported that authorities found the vehicle abandoned at a nearby shopping mall.
Inside, crime scene techs found a large amount of blood pooled on the cushions and floorboards.
What was also interesting about the car was that it had Utah license plates. When police ran those plates and the car’s VIN number, they determined it and the two minivans had been stolen from a Thrifty Car Rental Lot in Las Vegas three months earlier, in January 2000. Case reports for that crime say roughly a dozen cars were stolen during that incident.
After learning that information, it was obvious to police that whoever was behind the deaths of Gary and Ricardo had planned the robbery for a while and had taken advanced steps to obtain getaway cars.
A few days after the shooting, ballistics results on the bullets that killed Gary and Ricardo came back as a match to the same kinds of bullets used in the botched Desert Inn robbery that had happened in June of 1999.
This was the first piece of hard evidence that officially linked two of the crime scenes from the past two years to the same people…or at least the same weapon. The excitement the police were feeling about this update was celebrated internally… In the public, sorrow washed over the Henderson community in the wake of Gary and Ricardo’s deaths.
Both men were well-liked in the city and came from good families. Ricardo was a father of five children and on the day he died he and his wife were supposed to celebrate their wedding anniversary with their entire family.
Both men’s tragic murders weighed heavy on their friends and families and really ratcheted up the public’s fear of the unknown individuals who were behind the Ross store robbery.
The only thing the public knew at the time was that a group of faceless gunmen were suspected of carrying out violent robberies between Henderson and Las Vegas. People were definitely afraid, and newspapers kept the crimes in the headlines which didn’t do much to dampen mass hysteria.
On April 22nd, 2000, roughly a month and a half after Gary and Ricardo were killed, the authorities were called to the New York- New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
New reports state that several eyewitnesses reported seeing at least two men carrying weapons overpower two armored truck guards as they were wheeling money out of the casino on a cart. The payload was worth $100,000 in cash and casino chips.
Specific details in the case were hard to come by. Over and over again, the authorities kept running into the same problem…eyewitness accounts of what the robbers looked like varied widely.
Surveillance video only got investigators so far in identifying the suspects. Most of the time the robbers wore cheap disguises and the footage from the casinos was grainy. Law enforcement really had to rely on eyewitnesses for specific descriptions and that system was just not panning out on a consistent basis.
The only somewhat consistent description police had heard from witnesses thus far was that the assailants were Hispanic men.
Once detectives learned from the Armored Transport Company that Gary and Ricardo had reported three men matching that description leading up to their murders…that gave investigators something more concrete to work with.
The task force sat down and reviewed all of the cases and determined that in each one some kind of getaway car had been used and most of the time those cars had been stolen from local rental car lots.
The feds felt like the rental car lots were the key…so agents started to take a closer look at all of the stolen vehicles they could prove had been involved in the robberies. Investigators specifically wanted to research all of the license plates and VIN numbers to try and figure out where they’d come from.
And that’s when they had a significant “AHA” moment…or at least one agent did.
A special agent who’d come on board with the case midway through pointed out the fact that Jose Vigoa should be considered a possible suspect.
If you remember, Jose was the night watchman at a storage car lot on the outskirts of Las Vegas that investigators initially tracked a stolen Chevy pickup truck to after the MGM Grand robbery.
Well, turns out that Jose had quite the criminal history.
According to FBI Files, the agent who brought his name to the top of the suspect list had actually arrested Jose back in 1990 for cocaine possession and drug trafficking. Back then when agents raided Jose’s property, he’d attempted to run an agent over with his car.
He was convicted for those crimes and served six years in prison. He was released in 1996, which made it realistically possible for him to be a part of the robbery crew that had been plaguing Las Vegas since 1998.
Even more incriminating was the fact that authorities determined Jose and Pedro Duarte were brothers-in-law.
Right after learning that information, the FBI started surveilling Jose hard.
They showed still images and videos from the casino robberies to his probation officer and she told investigators that one of the robbers did resemble Jose, but she couldn’t be sure.
Undeterred…law enforcement started turning up the heat on Jose. They started following him everywhere, tearing apart his personal background and took a deep dive into his financial records. Agents also started tracking who he was hanging out with and those people’s finances too…
What they found, blew the entire case wide open…
FBI agents looking to make arrests in the violent armored truck robberies and murders in Las Vegas that had been going on since 1998 had their sights set on Jose Vigoa as a potential ringleader.
Jose had fled Cuba as a young boy and grown up to earn an extensive military service record fighting for Russia overseas. According to his record, he spent many years as a teenager and young adult training and fighting in wars for the Soviet Union in the Middle East.
He returned home during the late 70’s but eventually fled Cuba for good in 1980. That year he moved to Las Vegas, got married and eventually had three daughters.
According to John Huddy’s book, Jose struggled to make ends meet in America and turned to the world of drug trafficking to support his family.
After a few years of peddling drugs, Jose grew to be a pretty powerful dealer…until he was busted in 1990 and sent to prison.
According to the Las Vegas Sun, after he was released Jose worked a variety of low-paying jobs at storage yards and construction companies.
While at a construction site in late 1997, early 1998 he befriended a 23-year-old Mexican national named Oscar Cisneros, who’d just moved to the United States. Around that same time, Jose also became close with his brother-in-law Pedro Duarte and a guy name Luis Suarez.
FBI agents started examining each of these men’s lives intently and discovered that despite working low-paying jobs and having limited incomes, they often made large purchases with cash.
Investigators could prove that on several occasions each of the men had gone on expensive shopping sprees, bought things like homes, vehicles, computers, jewelry, and fine clothing, all with cash.
This was a huge red flag to FBI that agents. They felt confident that they not only had the right men in their crosshairs, but they were getting closer to making arrests, they just needed a plan on how to prove it.
Their strategy took a little too long though because on June 3rd, 2000 another violent robbery went down. This time at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas strip.
This heist was unlike any of the others that had occurred prior.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that around 6:30 in the morning three masked men walked right up to the windows of the casino’s money cages with guns drawn. The suspects demanded money from the employees and forced their way behind the counters. After a few minutes of stuffing duffle bags with cash, they took off.
When investigators arrived and checked the surveillance tapes their suspicions were confirmed, the robbery crew they’d been tracking was responsible.
Interviews with some Bellagio security guards also confirmed that the assailants had fired several shots to deter being pursued.
The casino’s security videos showed the trio of men committing the robbery and getting away in a van that had been idling out front of the building in the valet zone.
In total, the three men managed to steal $150,000…but thankfully, no one was injured in the shootout.
Other than the clips of surveillance footage, the thieves left behind virtually no forensic evidence or traces that they’d been there.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that at this point law enforcement had to take a risk with the investigation. They could no longer keep all of the information they had and the surveillance images from all of the robbery scenes to themselves.
The FBI took a gamble and decided to release some of the images of the suspected robbers to media outlets across Nevada and the United States. They did not however mention the names of the four men they suspected were involved. They simply put the casino surveillance pictures out there and asked the public for tips and information.
Right away, the gamble paid off. Witnesses began to call to report they recognized some of the men. A lot of the tips were from people who said they knew Jose Vigoa.
Those ID confirmations, combined with the circumstantial evidence police already had on Jose, were enough to get a warrant for his arrest on June 7th, 2000.
According to FBI Files and John Huddy’s reporting, when investigators narrowed in on Jose at an auto body shop he decided to run and took his wife and one of his daughters with him
An article by the Record-Courier states that for 14 miles Jose led authorities on a high-speed chase through rush hour traffic in Las Vegas. At various points Jose was clocked going well over 100 miles per hour. Eventually, he crashed his family and their car into a tree and got out on foot and started running.
Officers caught up to him and he was arrested for multiple crimes including robbery and murder. According to news reports, his wife and daughter were not severely injured.
After his arrest, authorities raided one of Jose’s properties and FBI agents uncovered a trap door which contained several disguises and more than $125,000 in cash and casino chips.
Authorities’ next move was to close in on Oscar Cisneros. He was the youngest of the men and someone the authorities suspected would be the easiest to crack under pressure.
That assumption proved 100% correct because after only a few hours of talking with him, Oscar confessed to his role in several of the robberies. And not only that…he named Jose as the ringleader and confirmed that Luis Suarez and Pedro Duarte were involved.
Oscar also confessed that he’d been the robber during the Ross store shooting that had been shot in the leg.
He showed investigators his bullet wound and said Jose had advised him not to go to a hospital for treatment. Instead, Oscar said he’d treated his wound at home.
Oscar’s story was corroborated by blood evidence forensic techs who’d found blood pooled in the back of the abandoned sedan that FBI agents had discovered shortly after the murders of Gary and Ricardo.
According to the Record-Courier and Las Vegas Review-Journal, inside Oscar’s house investigators found several explosives, bomb making materials and an AK-47 rifle that’s bullets were a perfect ballistics match to the rounds that had killed the two guards.
In the weeks after Oscar and Jose’s arrests, Jose spoke with authorities but refused to be helpful. Oscar on the other hand assured the FBI that he would fully cooperate.
Unfortunately, the 23-year-old never got the chance.
On October 9th, 2000, guards at the jail where Oscar was being housed found him dead in his cell. Evidence at the scene indicated that he’d taken his own life by using a bedsheet.
His abrupt death brought an end to whatever additional evidence he could have provided against the other men.
At the time, a lot of people inside the government suspected Jose was somehow involved in Oscar’s death, but in the end his official cause of death was confirmed to be a suicide with no external contributing factors.
Prosecutors tasked with moving forward with charges against Jose didn’t let Oscar’s death throw them off too much. Obviously, it was a huge blow to the case but they had other evidence besides Oscar’s testimony that could convince a jury Jose was guilty.
The government planned to try Jose first and announced that they would be pursuing the death penalty.
Over the next few years as prosecutors prepared the case for trial, I guess the possibility of death weighed heavy on Jose and he eventually took a plea deal.
According to the Las Vegas Sun, he pleaded guilty to 46 criminal counts and was sentenced to four life sentences without the possibility of parole…plus several hundred years tacked on for good measure.
Luis Suarez, the third accomplice was eventually apprehended and also plead guilty. He was sentenced to 5 to 16 years in prison.
Pedro Duarte was the only member of the crew to have an actual trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to 16 to 70 years in prison.
According to the book “Storming Las Vegas” and court documents filed after the plea hearings, the whole robbery plot started when Jose and Oscar became close friends.
It didn’t take long before they started conspiring to rob armored trucks and casinos in Las Vegas.
Jose was responsible for planning the robberies and he did so with militaristic precision. It was his decision to rope in Pedro and Luis as bagmen and getaway drivers.
Jose spent hours studying and following armored truck guards’ routes and, on several occasions, even planted listening devices inside some of the trucks when guards were distracted or on their lunch breaks.
The most shocking part to me is that according to reports, Jose kept half of all of the robbery proceeds…the other 50 percent was divvied up among his accomplices.
So, Oscar, Luis and Pedro all got considerably less money than their ringleader.
Jose was said to have run through the robbery scenarios dozens of times with his crew out in the Nevada desert before executing the real thing. He religiously went over every detail with his associates to ensure they did not mess up. Pedro Duarte did mess up early on though when he’d forgotten to put the getaway car in park back in 1998 during their first attempted robbery in Henderson.
According to the bureau of prisons, today, Jose Vigoa remains incarcerated at High Desert State Prison in Nevada. He will spend the rest of his life there.
When asked why Jose and his accomplices committed so many crimes over two-plus years, instead of quitting when they had the opportunity, a Las Vegas Metro police lieutenant told newspaper reporters quote—
“In 22 years in law enforcement, these are probably the most arrogant suspects I’ve ever come across. That’s why they kept robbing in town, rather than leaving here. Even though they were caught on video, they were extremely arrogant, they thought they would never be caught….They thought they were untouchable, and they weren’t. It was arrogance, strictly arrogance.”– end quote.
If you’ve enjoyed this ten-part series, stick around for a bonus episode next week where we’ll be talking with some of the FBI agents who helped track down a few of the most notorious robbery crews from this season.
Also, be sure to leave the show a five-star review and rating.
Your feedback helps other people find the series.
Armored is an audiochuck original.
Hosted by Jake Brennan.
Research and writing by Micheal Whelan with writing assistance from executive producer Delia D’Ambra
Editing by Eric Aaron
So, what do you think Chuck, do you approve? *howl*