It was June 2011 when Cazarez started turning the gears on his plan. Although his judgment was knocked loose by addictions to cocaine and alcohol at the time, he meticulously laid the groundwork.
On July 29, 2011, Cazarez told his boss he wanted to stay late to plan an ice cream social for customers. When Cazarez, an Alaskan in his mid-20s wearing a red shirt and black suit, was alone in the bank, he stepped into the vault, as federal agents would later lay out in court documents. He loaded $4.3 million in cash into three boxes, rolled them out of the building on a cart and placed them in his car.
Before driving off, Cazarez set a timer on the vault so it would not open for six days. By then, he planned to be safely over the Mexican border. As he pulled out of the parking lot, a chartered private jet was already waiting to hurry him on the first leg of his journey south.
But Cazarez never made his grand getaway. Busted by authorities in Mexico, he was dumped into a Mexican jail, conditions he referred to in a recent letter to a federal judge as “the filthiest place imaginable.” Extradited back to the United States in 2018 after seven years of incarceration in Mexico, Cazarez was sentenced on Monday to 10 more years in prison in the United States, according to a Justice Department news release.
In his letter to the judge, Cazarez, now 34, maintained that he had executed his plot to pay for his now-deceased father’s medical treatment. But federal authorities say workplace revenge also played a part. Cazarez was concerned KeyBank would cut his position and put him out of a job. And an unresolved issue is still hanging over the case: $500,000 of the stolen money is still missing.
“I obviously suck at being a criminal and know that any illegal activity will land me back in prison,” Cazarez wrote to the judge, pleading for leniency.
Cazarez’s plan was both meticulously detailed and beset by flashes of movie-plot grandiosity. “The only thing I know how to do to make a living is to work hard and excel at anything I set my mind to,” he wrote to the judge.
Days before stealing $4.3 million, he trained new employees in a way that would eliminate the need for two individuals to gain access to the vault — a move that set the stage for his solo heist.
A day before stealing the money, Cazarez lifted $30,000 from the vault to pay for his chartered plane. After bagging his $4.3 million, the jet flew Cazarez from Anchorage to Seattle, according to court documents. There, as he’d planned, he met up with his girlfriend. Together, they purchased a Ford Fusion. Cazarez also asked a cabdriver about purchasing a gun, and the cabdriver hooked him up with an AK-47, a handgun and ammunition for $4,000.
The outlaw couple drove to California and then planned to head toward Cazarez’s uncle in Mexico. The uncle suggested Cazarez and his girlfriend take a bus rather than drive the difficult Mexican roads. The couple crossed into Mexico at Tijuana, abandoned the Fusion, bought tickets for Sonora, Mexico, and boarded the bus on Aug. 1, 2011.
The next day, the bus was stopped by Mexican authorities at a checkpoint inside the country. The passengers were told to disembark with their luggage. Inside Cazarez’s bag, they discovered millions of American dollars.
“The moment I was caught I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders,” Cazarez would later write to the judge. “Although I had no idea what lay ahead, I knew that it was all for the best.”
Ahead were criminal charges in Mexico “analogous to money laundering and illegal possession of firearms for smuggling the cash and firearms into Mexico,” according to federal authorities.
But there was also a problem of the cash count.
Mexican authorities only discovered $3.8 million in his bags. After Cazarez served his prison sentence in Mexico and was extradited back to the United States in September 2018, the missing half-million dollars would become a point of contention. When he pleaded guilty to theft of bank funds last January, prosecutors wanted to know what happened to the cash.
According to Cazarez, the money was gone, given to his father for medical treatment, and then stolen. The defendant did not go into details about how the money was taken from his father.
“A large majority of the money I took was recovered,” he wrote to the judge. “Apart from what I spent, the majority of what remained was left to my dad to pay for medical expenses, and he was robbed before he ever had a chance and has since passed away, so there is no easy way to recover what is missing because, to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing left.”
Prosecutors, however, allege that Cazarez had actually hidden away the $500,000 in Washington state in case he was ever caught.
At Monday’s sentencing, the judge said the defendant had showed a lack of candor with the court about the missing money, sentencing Cazarez to a decade in prison with no credit for the time he served in Mexico.
“Absent a random search at an interior Mexican checkpoint, the defendant would be sipping margaritas and enjoying his millions in stolen money,” federal prosecutors emphasized in a court filing.