Monday, January 22, 2018

‘Underworld gang leaders had help from lawmen’

$18m Sentinel Security robbery

The multimillion-dollar Sentinel armoured van heist that was executed by brazen killers and robbers had been months in the planning, senior investigators told the Express and TV6 News.

At least ten men were involved in executing and planning the robbery, with countless others on the payroll, revealed several sources that are actively pursuing the investigation.

“The masterminds were two ma­jor underworld gang leaders in north Trinidad and another key underworld figure in Central, and they defi­nitely had help from law enforcement officials and other persons,” said a senior investigator who has been poring over the case night and day.

Insiders told the Express and TV6 News they believe the gunmen who executed the robbery were a mixture of well-known shooters from gangs in the Port of Spain area and Jamaicans who had some kind of military training.

Days after the robbery, police be­gan to painstakingly piece the puzzle together, hoping to find some substantial leads.

They made background checks on the charcoal Ford Ranger and the Kia Sorento SUV that were used in the robbery. The Ranger had been stolen in the Belmont area and the Sorento from the Ste Madeleine area.

The stolen vehicles were placed in the hands of two law enforcement officers for safe-keeping prior to the heist. Senior investigators confirmed the “lawmen from the Morvant and Beetham area were held by police”, questioned and later released as material witnesses never came forward to finger the lawmen.

Sources also told the Express and TV6 News that half an hour before the robbery, there had been a five-man police team constantly patrolling the Churchill-Roosevelt High­­­­-

way. Someone later suggested the officers take a rest at a nearby police station in the Northern Division.

Only two days ago, an officer who police believe made the suggestion was transferred out of the division to another area (name called).

It would seem this operation hinged on perfect timing to ensure the money was taken in one swift hit.

But how much money are we actually talking about?

Media reports had initially suggested $3 million and that was later revised to $17 million. But senior investigators in the case confirmed it was some $18.2 million taken in total.

Most of the money was marked, and the Express and TV6 News obtained the serial numbers of some of the money taken.

In local currency, the marked

serial numbers are: “FW744001” to “FW100000” and “FX000001” to “FX150010”.

These serial numbers represent some $14 million that was in 20-dollar bills; close to $3 million snatched in 100-dollar bills; US$150,000, which works out to just under TT$1,000,000; and the remainder in EC (Eastern Caribbean) dollars, one senior investigator revealed.

“I think most people believe a lot of the money were in hundreds, so that is what they would have been looking for initially; in this case, no one expecting the majority to be in 20-dollar bills.”

The money was destined for First Citizens, Scotiabank and Royal Bank in Tobago.

A senior investigator said, “What we know is that Sentinel Security picked up the money from the respective banks the day before the robbery, and at least nine people would have known about the money run heading to Tobago. And we have been speaking to them, as well as other people. We have not ruled out the possibility that there were inside elements involved, as well as ex-employees who were recently fired.”

Potentially, these well-connected, network criminal masterminds had help from a number of avenues.

What investigators found peculiar in respect to this heist was in the past, a particular gang leader’s name had cropped up connecting him in some way to past Sentinel van robberies, but his name didn’t pop up this time.

While investigators are working around the clock to ensure the perpe­trators are caught, they are also keeping a watchful eye for when the mo­ney would be spent and by whom.

A few weeks ago, following the highway heist, they had a false alarm when a man who has connections to one of the masterminds went to an auto showroom on Richmond Street in Port of Spain to purchase a car with more than $200,000 in cash.

Fraud Squad detectives were la­ter called in but police subsequently disco­vered the money was obtained from a bank in the Maraval area and was not connected to the heist.

Underworld sources say the mo­ney is being kept under wraps, and they believe moves are afoot to transport the money to Jamaica by boat.

Another source told the Express and TV6 News that only last week, a call was made by one of the masterminds to a police sergeant, asking him to assist in moving the money. Police say they are looking into this latest development, based on information they have received.

Investigators say they have been looking into every avenue and are keeping their eyes peeled.

The million-dollar reward being offered by Crime Stoppers, senior investigators say, has yielded “not one solid lead”.

The source continued, “It’s because of this particular network involved, people might be sacred to come forward, but surely, their information will be treated in the strictest confidence because we want to bring those responsible to justice.”

They are hoping closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footage and the DNA they have recovered from the scene will help them piece this puzzle together soon and arrest the men responsible for this brazen act...and the taking of Bert Clarke’s life.

Sentinel Security Services has been mum on the matter and has not spoken to the media since the robbery. Despite repeated attempts made by the Express and TV6 News, no one ever returned our calls.