The Pierre Hotel in New York City. The Pierre Hotel was the sight of one of the largest successful robberies in history. Editorial credit: Editorial credit: EQRoy /

The Biggest Heists and Bank Robberies in American History

America is the world's richest country, with a historical streak of heists and bank robberies. New York was the scene for three of the eight most legendary heists, while two of the biggest happened in a third-of-a-year span for a total amount of around $60 million. The most intriguing heists involve crafty criminals, inside jobs, airports, and hotels. Upon stealing a lump of cash and valuables from banks and corporations, many criminals face prison, with only some of the money recovered. These biggest heists and bank robberies in American history are as diverse as the individuals who planned and committed them.

Heists are typically carried out by career criminals or those who had previous exposure to the security apparatus of the very same buildings or institutions they rob. Highly professional and shockingly organized, successful heists are usually remembered for their speed and precision rather than using blunt force and violence to get what they are after. 

United California Bank Robbery (March 24, 1972) - $30 million

bank robbery, robber in black uniform and mask
During the United California Bank heist, the robbers successfully carried out $30 million worth of cash and valuables.

Thirty million worth stolen from the United California Bank was the biggest heist in American history. It took place on March 24, 1972, days after the main culprits Amil and James Dinsio, professional criminals from Ohio, flew in their nephews, brother-in-law, and two associates for the heist in Laguna Niguel, California. These criminals heard a rumor that President Richard Nixon kept a multimillion-dollar stash at this particular United California Bank. Upon renting a townhouse, they planned and carried out the heist by disarming the alarms and blasting a hole in the bank's safe deposit vault roof with dynamite.

The gang flawlessly carried out the heist and left the scene of the crime in record time. They walked away with $30 million worth of cash and valuables. Upon arriving at the townhouse that they used for a hideout they meticulously scrubbed the place of any evidence and fled the city. However, despite their best efforts, the police identified the robbers with a generous tip from their taxi driver, as well as forgotten fingerprints inside the dishwasher. The Dinsio brothers also made the fatal mistake of using their real names to travel, and upon return home, the greedy bunch tried performing a similar heist in Ohio. Eventually, investigators linked the two heists and upon compiling evidence, arrested all members of the gang, with most of the loot, recovered.

Pierre Hotel, New York, New York (January 2, 1972) - $27 million

Exterior of The Pierre Hotel, New York
The exterior of The Pierre Hotel, New York.

Samuel Nalo and Robert Comfort went down in history in 1972 with a crime in the Guinness World Records as the "most successful hotel robbery." Stolen from the Pierre Hotel in New York, the legendary heist was worth $27 Million. The seasoned criminals had already stolen $1,000,000 each in jewelry and cash from the Sherry Netherlands Hotel, another 5-star hotel located in Manhatten. Nalo and Comfort meticulously planned and organized the heist on the Pierre Hotel, with a diverse group of criminals involved in direct action.

There was Robert "Bobby" Germaine and Alan Visconti, two associates of the Lucchese crime family, Ali-Ben, a contract killer for the Turkish mafia, and his brother-in-law, Al Green. Nick "the Cat" Sacco, and a freelance contract killer, Donald Frankos also participated. They flawlessly performed the heist in the early morning hours of January 2nd, 1972, taking 19 hostages at the scene. The group had various fates upon parting ways, with Nalo killed by an unknown gunman in 1988, and Comfort, killed by mafia bosses. Ali-Ben and Al Green escaped to Europe, while "The Cat" sole survivor sits imprisoned for another crime.

Dunbar Armoured Robbery (September 12, 1997) - $18.9 million

U-Haul is an American moving equipment and storage rental company
Pace loaded $18.9 million dollars into a U-Haul truck and drove away.

One of the biggest heists in American history happened on September 12, 1997, for the stolen amount of $18.9 million. It involved a six-man team with Allen Pace in the lead. Pace was a "safety inspector" at the Dunbar Armored trucking company and learned the inner workings and security procedures at the Dunbar facility in Los Angeles during his employment. This knowledge even included knowing the positions of security cameras and the time at which security would be at its most vulnerable. He also knew that the vault would be open on a Friday night when large quantities of money were removed.

He recruited five childhood friends for the robbery, who all broke in during lunch break, assaulted two guards, and robbed the vault, all in half an hour. Pace also took the recording devices away from the cameras before loading $18.9 million dollars into a U-Haul truck and getting away. The robbers started slowly laundering stolen cash through property deals and phony businesses, but one sloppy robber lent some of the money to a friend in its original cash straps. The members of the gang were rounded up in short order and all given lengthy prison sentences. Pace, the mastermind behind the heist was handed 24 years in federal prison in 2001 and was released in October 2020. 

March 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery (March 29, 1997) - $18.8 million

Loomis, Fargo & Co. is a cash handling company
Loomis (previously Loomis, Fargo & Co.) truck.

On March 29, 1997, in Jacksonville, Florida, Loomis Fargo lost $18.8 million in the fourth-biggest heist in American history. To this day this heist remains the largest cash heist in American history as well. Philip Noel Johnson, an employee of Loomis Fargo, stole the money from the Loomis Fargo vehicle that he was driving, upon handcuffing his co-workers and leaving them in different locations.

Johnson hid the money in a stash located in rural North Carolina and fled to Mexico. Johnson was able to remain undetected for some time but grew impatient and tried to enter the United States too soon. Only six months after his heist he attempted to return to the United States but was held up at the border. Upon giving suspicious responses at Customs, the agents detained him and then eventually arrested Johnson after it was discovered he was carrying multiple passports. It was not long after he was taken into custody that his stash in North Carolina was discovered. All $18.8 million was recovered by law enforcement. 

October 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery (October 4, 1997) -$17.3 million

Loomis armored truck
Loomis armored truck.

Loomis Fargo's bad-luck streak continued, losing another $17.3 just over half a year later, in Maiden, North Carolina. The mastermind, David Scott Ghantt, was another employee of Loomis Fargo and served as the regional vault supervisor for the company. With easy access to the vaults, it did not take David long before he had built up a large enough group of co-conspirators to help him commit the crime. Upon loading over $17.3 million into a branded truck, Ghantt moved the cash to private cars with his associates. Planning to stash most of the stolen money away for the time being, Ghantt crossed the border to Mexico with an allowed $50,000 on him.

The following morning Ghantt was the main suspect at work as the only absent employee, he was also spotted on security cameras. The investigators finally connected the whole gang to the scheme only a few months later. Around $15 million of the total money stolen was recovered with $2 million still missing. The authorities convicted eight more people for the crime and found sixteen others guilty for their indirect involvement in the heist.

Sentry Armoured Car Company Robbery (December 12, 1982) - $11 million

Business man opens an aluminum briefcase full of stacks of hundred-dollar bills before a deal.
The Sentry Armoured Car Company Robbery was the biggest cash robbery in US history at the time.

One of the most famous robberies in American history took place in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City when Sentry Armoured Car Company lost a hefty $11 million in a cleverly orchestrated heist. The guard, 25-year-old Christos Potamitis, orchestrated a plan with armed associates, who punched a hole in the wooden roof of the armored company’s headquarters. Potamitis let them in and handcuffed himself to appear victimized, for one of the more convincing inside jobs of the century. 

The crime happened on a weekend before millions of dollars left on Monday, lending to the biggest cash robbery in US history at the time. Five of the criminals faced prison charges, with only $1.5 million ever recovered. The authorities arrested Potamitis on February 2nd, 1983 on vacation in San Juan at a private resort. His partner in crime, 21-year-old George Legaki voluntarily showed up for questioning and was taken on the spot.

Potamitis served 9 years in prison. After his release, he wrote a screenplay about his life of crime, the heist, his incarceration, and his road to redemption. This was eventually turned into the 2013 film "Empire State" starring noteworthy actors Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson and Liam Hemsworth. Today Potamitis still gives public speeches about his fascinating and checkered past. 

JFK International Airport, New York, New York (December 11, 1978) - $5.9 million

JFK International Airport in the 1960s
JFK International Airport.

"The Lufthansa Heist" was the largest cash robbery at the time in American history with an estimated $5.9 million stolen. The robbery on December 11th, 1978 happened at the JFK International Airport in New York City after 6 masked gunmen rushed the Lufthansa cargo terminal and overpowered the handful of security guards who were on watch. Rumor has it that American gangster, Jimmy Burke, was the mastermind behind the heist and it is more than likely that the "guards" were paid off by Burke and his crew to look the other way. 

The robbery only took a little over an hour and it left no one dead or seriously injured. Authorities were only ever able to pin one person for this heist. That being said, it is likely that many of the robbers and others involved in this elaborate plan were killed by the mob in an attempt to tie up loose ends and keep the peering eyes of the police away from them. It is suspected that the ones who made it out alive of this mess were later sent to prison for unrelated crimes.

Burke was never formally charged and got away with $5 million cash and $875,000 in jewels. The crime is the longest in American history under investigation, with the latest arrest in 2015. There are also three movies inspired by the heist of "10 Million Dollar Getaway," "The Big Heist," and the infamous film "Goodfellas".

Brinks Building, Boston, Massachusetts (January 17, 1950) - $2.8 million

Brinks building.
The Brink's Company is an American private security and protection company.

The Brinks Building lost $2.8 million on January 17th, 1950 in a heist that went down in history as the "crime of the century." The main culprit, mastermind, and leader, Joseph “Big Joe” McGinnis led his armed gang of eleven, dressed in bank uniforms and Halloween masks. That evening, they accessed the second floor with copied keys, bound and gagged the workers, taking everything but a box of Payroll for the General Electric company McGinnis, and even revolvers from the employees.

They got away with $1,218,211.29 stolen cash and $1,577,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. To put this into perspective 2.8 million dollars in 1950 is worth 34 million dollars in today's money. They agreed not to spend the money for two years, the time for the statute of limitations to run out, but just five days prior to it running out the majority of the gang faced arrest. Eight of them received maximum life sentences. They were all paroled in 1971 except for McGinnis, who died in prison, and as for the money, only one-fifth of the $2.7 million was ever recovered.

It is no surprise that the richest country in the world is set for historical heists and bank robberies. New York is plagued with historically-big crimes, while Loomis Fargo may just be the unluckiest rich company in America, losing over $36 million in six short months. These biggest heists and bank robberies in American history are also some of the most interesting ones. Both weathered and new criminals stole hefty sums, with still-pending investigations, and much of the money often unrecovered. With better security, bigger charges, and worse punishments, there are no recent heists or big bank robberies. However, history dictates that the most notorious criminals will overcome challenges to get rich on the spot.

Biggest Heists and Bank Robberies in American History

Rank Location Year Value Stolen (USD in the year of the heist)
1 United California Bank Robbery 1972 $30 million
2 Pierre Hotel 1972 $27 million
3 Dunbar Armoured Robbery 1997 $18.9 million
4 Loomis Fargo Robbery (March) 1997 $18.8 million
5 Loomis Fargo Robbery (October) 1997 $17.3 million
6 Sentry Armoured Car Company 1982 $11 million
7 JFK International Airport 1978 $5.9 million
8 Brinks Building 1950 $2.8 million

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