JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This month marked 25 years since one of the biggest armored car heists in U.S. history.
It all went down in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the man at the center of that heist, David Scott Ghantt, now lives in Jacksonville.
He had since served time in prison for the crime and told our sister station WSOC-TV Channel 9′s Glenn Counts he learned a valuable lesson while behind bars.
‘It took me going to prison to realize I was a bag of worms’
Sun, sand and beaches are all part of why Jacksonville is a popular destination. The town’s booming construction industry attracts workers from around the country. It’s attracted workers like Ghantt.
“I’m married, I got one girl, she’s 15 going on 30. I ride motorcycles and fish -- normal guy,” Ghantt told Counts.
He has a regular life now, but 25 years ago, Ghantt was the mastermind behind the third-largest bank robbery in U.S. history.
“It took me going to prison to realize I was a bag of worms, and it took me years of work to be somebody worthy to come back into our society,” he said.
Ghantt, his former co-worker Kelly Campbell and her friends Steve and Michelle Chambers, carried out the Loomis Fargo heist on Oct. 4, 1997. Ghantt was the vault manager and was surrounded daily by millions of dollars worth of temptation.
“So it’s one thing to go from up here, thought, to action,” he said.
“When did you conclude ‘Yeah, I’m actually going to do this?’” Counts asked.
“To be brutally honest, it was that morning,” Ghantt replied.
‘I thought, ‘Yeah, sure, I can beat them’’
Since Ghantt was the supervisor, he sent his co-worker home first. Then, he proceeded to load 2,800 pounds of cash into a van. The money weighed as much as a compact car and he did it all by himself.
“I made a joke once that was the hardest I’d ever worked for Wells Fargo -- yeah, it’s a lot of work,” Ghantt said.
Driving away, he said he felt a mix of fear, confidence and excitement that he outsmarted the FBI.
“Probably very egotistical of me, I thought, ‘Yeah, sure, I can beat them, they’re college smart and that’s about it,’” Ghantt said.
Ghantt met up with the other members of the plot and offloaded the cash. Even with several vehicles, they underestimated how much space they would need and they had to leave $3 million behind.
“How I held it together is beyond me,” Ghantt said. “The old man me would never survive that, I’d have a heart attack.”
Ghantt took $50,000 for himself and fled to Cozumel, Mexico. Steve Chambers would keep the rest. The plan was to maintain a low profile and wait for things to cool off, allowing Ghantt to return to the states and collect his cut.
“From my standpoint, it was just a business deal,” Ghantt said. “It’s like, me and you sat down, I have access to pie, you like pie, all I want is my share of the pie. If we work together, we can all have plenty of pie.”
But things didn’t quite work out that way.
FBI: Agents arrested Ghantt to save his life
The FBI says Chambers hired a hitman to tie up the ultimate loose end -- Ghantt. The FBI heard about the plot and agents knew they could no longer wait. So they went to Mexico and arrested Ghantt in order to protect him.
“I was relieved emotionally because I knew there was a good chance my luck might run out,” Ghantt said.
Ghantt didn’t know the full extent of what was happening back home -- how that “lay low” plan turned into a flurry of extravagant spending. Steve and Michelle Chambers, who had lived in a mobile home, bought a mansion in Cramer Mountain. They also purchased expensive cars, jewelry and a breast enhancement or two.
“My knee-jerk reaction was to be angry, and then the sarcastic ass side of me started laughing about it,” Ghantt said.
FBI video shows agents searching the Cramer Mountain home and finding stacks of cash. Agents raided safe deposit boxes, where they recovered more than $11 million.
In all, agents arrested 24 people in the heist. All but one took plea deals, including Ghantt, who was sentenced to seven years in prison.
‘Most people are going to forgive you’
“That first day in prison was scary,” Ghantt said. “And then I realized that a lot of people knew who I was and they had followed the case.”
The case had gotten national publicity and was the subject of numerous articles, documentaries and even a movie. That movie, Masterminds, was filmed in 2014. Ghantt, who by then was long out of prison, served as a consultant.
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“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I went down and talked to them, got to meet Zach Galifianakis and the director,” Ghantt said.
Ghantt said he believes in redemption, and that his mistake 25 years ago brought him all the things that are important in his life today. He’s a family man with a wife and daughter. He loves his motorcycle and enjoys going fishing and, while he’s sorry for the past, he’s not ashamed to talk about it.
“Most people are going to forgive you. Not all of them, but some of them are going to forgive you, they’re going to overlook it.,” he said. “And if that gives people out there a little bit of hope, then I’ve served my purpose on this earth.”