Famous American Bank Heists: The Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery

In this edition of Famous American Bank Heists, we’ll cover one of the most hare-brained criminal schemes in U.S. history: the Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery. If this sounds a bit familiar, it should. The Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery occurred just 15 years ago, and the remarkable stupidity of the criminal masterminds involved made the heist something of a news sensation. Here’s how it all went down.

Back in 1997, the Loomis Fargo Company was a brand new armored car company, a consolidation of the Wells Fargo Armored Car Service and Loomis Armored Inc. Charged with handling all of Wells Fargo’s cash, the company had over 200 offices and had 8,500 people on its payroll. Among those 8,500 people was a 28-year-old man named David Ghantt.

Ghantt was employed as a vault supervisor at Loomis Fargo’s Charlotte office. Like many Loomis Fargo guards, he often joked about robbing the company and running away with the money. Unlike many Loomis Fargo guards, he was also having an extramarital affair with a co-worker, a woman named Kelly Campbell. And unlike pretty much every other Loomis Fargo guard, Kelly Campbell didn’t think robbing the company was such a bad idea.

One day, after Ghantt had joked a few times about robbing the company, Campbell said that she knew somebody who could help him do just that. She introduced him to Steve Chambers, a small-time crook. The three talked it over and decided that robbing the Charlotte Loomis Fargo depot made good sense and would be a nice thing to do.

The plan was simple. Ghantt would send his lone trainee home and stay late after work. He’d head into the vault, load up a company van with cash and quickly leave for Mexico. Since the FBI would quickly figure out who stole the money, he’d leave the bulk of the cash with Steve Chambers ahd his wife, Michelle.

On the night of October 4, 1997, Ghantt walked out of the depot with $17 million in cash. It was the most money that had ever been physically taken from a U.S. bank. He headed for the border, believing that he’d committed the perfect crime. Then everything started to go awry.

First, Ghantt and his friends severely underestimated the physical and logistical challenges associated with actually possessing $17 million in cash. That kind of money takes up a lot of space, and so the gang was forced to rent storage units and pay family members to open safety deposit boxes. They even stashed some of the cash in barrels. Then they discovered that the airport Ghantt had intended to depart from had been closed for a year. He was forced instead to hop a bus to Atlanta – carrying $25,000 in a duffel bag. From there he caught a flight to Playa de Carmen.

The gang had been right about one thing, though: within a matter of days, the FBI knew who had robbed Loomis Fargo. Agents were simply waiting on Ghantt’s co-conspirators to reveal themselves, and Steve and Michelle Chambers did that in grand fashion.

First, they called up a few banks with an important question that went something like this: “Hi. How much money can we deposit before you have to report the transaction?” The banks reported the phone calls to the FBI.

Next, Michelle stuffed her checking account with $200,000 in cash and  hit the town for an outrageous spending spree with her husband Steve. They moved out of their trailer and into a $635,000 home in a ritzy neighborhood. Steve bought Michelle a $43,000 ring and a BMW. He stocked his new house with eight massive TVs and filled his wine cellar with Pabst Blue Ribbon.

What was the FBI doing during this time? Agents had more than enough evidence to arrest Steve and Michelle Chambers for grand larceny, but they waited. The assumption was that Ghantt had been killed, and they wanted proof that Steve Chambers had killed him.

The FBI was on to something here. Ghantt had been busy blowing through his $25 grand at a Mexican resort, and when he wrote a letter to Chambers demanding that his partner send him more cash, Chambers hatched a plan. A confidential informant wearing a wire captured a conversation between Chambers and another accomplice. The topic? Setting up a bogus cash drop and taking out Ghantt.

With Ghantt’s whereabouts confirmed, the FBI decided to make its move. Ghantt, Campbell, Steve and Michelle Chambers and 20 other accomplices – including family members and Steve Chambers’s lawyer – were rounded up and arrested. Ghantt was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years, Michelle Chambers received seven years and eight months, Steve Chambers received 11 years and three months and Kelly Campbell received six years. Many of the other accomplices were given probation or reduced sentences.

Ultimately, the famous Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery proves that crime – especially really dumb crime – doesn’t pay. These bumbling crooks believed they had executed a masterful plan, but it had always played more like a Hollywood comedy. The story of the Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery is so ridiculous, in fact, that a nonfiction book on the subject is currently being optioned to movie studios, and guess who’s playing Ghantt? In all likelihood it’ll be Jim Carrey, and doesn’t that say it all?