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Loomis Fargo heist is topic of WCNC documentary

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Charlotte’s great comedy crime caper gets back in the spotlight at 7:30 Saturday night in a special on WCNC (Channel 36).

You may remember the story.

On Oct. 4, 1997, Loomis Fargo guard David Scott Ghantt found himself alone at the end of his shift. He had keys to the vault and loaded half a ton of bundled cash into an Econoline van. He snatched the tapes from two surveillance cameras, unaware that there was a third watching his handiwork.

He drove to a parking lot in Gaston County, where he met accomplices. They stuffed cash into a rented Budget truck, then ditched the Econoline in the woods – with $3 million still inside. They’d taken $17 million from the vault, making it the third-largest bank job in U.S. history.

Ghantt took off for Mexico, and the rest of the gang waited for things to settle down. They didn’t wait very long.

Michele Chambers, for example, walked into a Mount Holly bank the following week and asked how much cash she could deposit without having to fill out IRS paperwork. She was told she could put in $10,000. She pulled $9,500 out of a briefcase. But the teller filled out the form anyway.

Later that month, Michele and her husband Steve Chambers moved out of their Lincolnton mobile home into a $635,000 mansion on Cramer Mountain. They put down $400,000 in cash. They later bought a furniture store, jewelry, a sports car and thousands of dollars in antiques.

Another conspirator bought a $30,000 minivan using $20 bills at Harrelson Toyota in Fort Mill.

Following the binge-spending trail, FBI agents eventually arrested more than 20 people and won convictions.

WCNC reporter Michelle Boudin, with photographer John Gray and special projects producer Robin Lipe, got to wondering what had happened to Ghantt. It’s all in “Behind the Great Heist.”

“We tracked him down in Florida where he is now living and talked with him about everything – from stealing the money to hiding out in Mexico, his arrest and what he’s up to now,” says Boudin.

Ghantt told them that when he made his getaway, he headed for New Orleans, cleaned out the minibar in his room at the Holiday Inn, then set off for a flight to Mexico.

When he got there, a priority was a disguise. “One of the first things I did was I dyed my hair blonde, and then I went – it probably wasn’t a legal optometrist – and I got some new green eyes and a little ‘tan in the can,’ ” Ghantt told them. “That’s where people mess up – they go too heavy, and they turn orange.”

Ultimately, Ghantt said, he wanted to live off the loot in a Mexican villa, then move to Europe, where he’d be less noticeable and where cash-banking regulations aren’t as strict.

Ghantt was eventually captured and returned to the United States to stand trial. His crime became famous for the reckless way the conspirators were caught.

And it hasn’t been forgotten. Boudin says she heard there’s a movie in the works about the heist – starring Jim Carrey.

Media Movers

Fox-owned WJZY (Channel 46) is on track to launch its own 10 p.m. newscast on Wednesday anchored by Cheryl Butler-Brayboy, who was an assistant professor of literature and languages at Johnson C. Smith University. Brayboy has a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in English and cultural studies and has worked for TV stations in Allentown, Pa.; Columbus, Ga.; and Washington. She was host of the “Queen City Blocks,” a show about Charlotte neighborhoods and hotspots, on WTVI (Channel 42) in 2009. WJZY is streaming rehearsals of its newscasts at 10 p.m. weeknights on www.myfoxcarolinas.com.

WSOC (Channel 9) chief meteorologist Steve Udelson will launch his 10th annual “Steve’s Coats for Kids” campaign on Jan. 6. Over the years, the drive has collected 70,000 new or gently-used coats for distribution to the needy by Crisis Assistance Ministry. … Reporter Mark Davenport joins WBTV (Channel 3). He was most recently at the CBS affiliate in Charleston.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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