The failed tunnel bank robbery

Published: Feb. 6, 2012 at 9:08 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 10, 2012 at 11:05 PM EST
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It is perhaps one of the greatest bank heists that never was. It happened in downtown Albany 24 years ago this summer. That's When five would-be bank robbers tunneled underneath the ground and came to just inches away from a king's ransom in a bank vault.

The plan would fail just days before it happen. But just as persistent as the shovel wielding crooks was the FBI agent on their tails.

Turning back the pages to a mystery born in the summer of 1988, the crime reads more like a Hollywood script that unfolded beneath downtown Albany.

"The case was very interesting to me. It was like trying to solve a big puzzle,"  said retired FBI agent Roy Brown, who was on the case from day one.

It was June 27th, 1988 when an employee at the former C&S Bank noticed a small hole beneath the carpet in the bank vault.

"Initially people were offering all kinds of suggestions of what that hole was. They thought that maybe there was something wrong with the carpet. New carpet had just been installed. They thought it maybe some sort of drain hole," Brown said.

But it wasn't the carpet. The hole found underneath would lead to something no one could have imagined. A man- made tunnel, 200 feet long, underneath the bank.  "It took about 30 minutes and we quickly learned that there had been some strange characters leasing this building nearby."

The building was this old Mule Barn. It was here where the tunnel began, but not the story of the Mole Gang - a group of ex-cons - who conspired to commit what could have been one of the boldest bank heists in U.S. history.

"The front man came from Texas, to lease the building, so to speak, under an assumed name," Brown said. The brains of operation came from Jacksonville. Julian Andreu, a Florida native financed the crime by selling cocaine. He even recruited his son Randall who is now serving time in a Florida prison. They, along with, a pair of brothers and a former Marine, comprised the Mole Gang.

"These people were familiar with Albany. But they didn't live here. So they could come and leave and make it much harder to solve this case."

The mule barn was rented under the agreement that furniture would be stored there. That was merely a facade. Instead this is where the digging operation would begin. Two thirds the length a football field under an alley. For three months the crew would tunnel by day using azimuth to gauge the tunnel's course.

"These are the cores of cement that were drilled out by the core drill. The drill was bolted underneath. The drill was bolted underneath the cement floor and they drilled out the cylinders."

"These would actually fit together in a circle and eventually they would drill out a manhole size hole in the vault floor."

Independence Day was fast approaching. And the retirement job for the would-be-robbers would go down over the three day holiday weekend.

"They had an individual in their crew who was an expert at drilling safe deposit boxes. They were going to punch all the safe deposit boxes very quickly, very efficiently.'

The vault was pierced. It was three days in which they could get in and get out. But the plan would fall short just days before their long planned heist. It was members of the Mole Gang who would foil the operation. of this very long tunnel started becoming suspicious of management.

"There was a lot of tension that started to build up in the group, and the guys at the end belief that once they cleared the boxes and gathered all the loot that the management of the crew was going to kill them and leave their bodies in the tunnel."

With the drill purposely disabled, the Mole Gang was forced to shut down and cover their tracks. They broke a water main to flood the tunnel and disbanded. The would-be-robbers gave up, but Agent Brown did not.

Eventually tracking down the Mole Gang who would come together one final time in Federal Court where they were sentenced to prison in 1991. A failed crime. A mystery solved.

At least two of the original Mole Gang members have died. They received sentences ranging 10 months to seven and a half years.

Copyright 2012 WALB.  All rights reserved.