Reading Matters

Jeff Diamant’s ‘Heist’ details 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in Charlotte

Don’t you love the word “heist”? Sounds like a word on wheels.

If you were here on Oct. 4, 1997 – actually, if you were anywhere – you know I’m talking about the $17 milion Loomis Fargo theft in Charlotte, which resulted in 21 convictions.

This fall, you can see the film, “Heist,” shot in Asheville and Wilmington, including Wilkesboro native Zach Galilfianakis as David Scott Ghantt, the man who removed the millions from the vault of the armored-car company where he worked.

Or you can read former Observer reporter Jeff Diamant’s highly entertaining, revised (since the 2002 edition) “Heist: The Oddball Crew Behind the $17 Million Loomis Fargo Theft” (Sourcebooks, $14.99 paper), due in August.

Diamant was the Observer’s lead reporter on the crime, and the details he amassed make for juicy and thoughtful reading.

One of the guys involved was Steve Chambers, who, Diamant tells us, was watching his pennies before the robbery. So how does he blow his new fortune?

Diamant says Steve and his wife vacated their mobile home in Lincoln County for a $635,000 house in nearby Gaston County, in the gated Cramer Mountain community. The house boasted, shall we say, a curved staircase with a faux leopard-skin stair runner, a beveled mirror with a leopard-fabric frame, a ceramic elephant, a statue of a fat chef, oil paintings of a leopard and elephant, statuettes of female nudes as bookends. And, wait! A clown-faced lava lamp.

No wonder folks around here nicknamed it the “hillbilly heist.”

But Diamant was not out to make fun. As he says, as a crime reporter, you’re talking with people at the worst time of their lives. And these people, or most of them, trusted Diamant to “tell their stories in a fair way.” He says he avoided the cheap shots, which is not to say his work was overly serious.

“The true story here is bizarre,” he says, “often quite hilarious, and in its totality, outrageously entertaining.”

Diamant also tries to dissect the robbers’ miss-steps, and he analyzes whether the crime sparked more angst or glee.

“The irony,” he concludes, “is that although they succeeded in stealing the money and managed to hold onto it for a bit, none of them seemed to enjoy their stolen riches except in short spurts and through occasional major purchases.”

Diamant, by the way, is a Yale graduate working on his PhD at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His topic is the history of Islam in the U.S. from 1975-2000, which grew out of his time on the religion beat at the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.