BY OLINE H. COGDILL
Most people have heard of the 1978 Lufthansa heist at JFK in which criminals made off with an estimated $6 million, which would be around $18 million today.
At the time, it was the largest cash robbery on American soil.
If that sounds familiar then perhaps you saw the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas, or read the book Wise Guys, written by the mob informant Henry Hill.
In the 1978 heist, many of those behind the crime didn’t fare well. Their increased spending and bragging didn’t make for a clean getaway.
But that Lufthansa robbery isn’t the only time thieves have targeted an airline.
It also happened at the Miami airport in 2005, a crime that James Grippando, right, uses for inspiration in his 22nd thriller, the enthralling Cash Landing.
In real life, the Miami heist netted $7.8 million for a band of amateur thieves.
According to Grippando’s website, which quotes the FBI’s official website, the real crime’s “mastermind,” Karls Monzon, teamed up with his uncle, an ex-con, his cocaine-addicted brother in law, and an insider who worked for Brinks Security who drove one of the armored trucks that regularly shuttled millions of dollars in cash from Miami International Airport to the Federal Reserve Branch just four miles from the airport.
Each week, states Grippando’s website, a 747 brings from the Frankfurt airport to the Miami airport anywhere from $80 million to $100 million in U.S. dollars in the cargo belly. German banks don’t need all those $50- and $100-dollar bills, and much of Miami’s economy runs on cash.
Just like in Goodfellas, the thieves had only one job to do after the heist—don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t change your routine and don’t start spending money you wouldn’t ordinarily have.
Naturally, that didn’t happen. The Cash Landing thieves started spending money like it was water.
One thief’s addiction to cocaine was only surpassed by his addiction to strippers, for whom he would buy $40,000 Rolexes. And we are not talking about just one watch, but several. As the FBI was closing in on their investigation via wiretap, a rival gang kidnapped one of the thieves. And then it got worse.
The real gang eventually was arrested and are still in prison, as are the kidnappers. As for the money, only about a million dollars was ever recovered.
Using a real event for a piece of fiction can be tricky, but Grippando, long an expert at the involving thriller, pulls it off quite nicely in Cash Landing.
Grippando concentrates on the FBI’s investigation, which includes the newly transferred Special Agent Andie Henning, to piece together the scattered clues. As in real life, there is no honor among thieves in Cash Landing.
The Cash Landing robbery is flawless—no one is hurt, not even a gun is fired. But instead of staying off the radar, some of the gang members immediately begin throwing money around, including buying several strippers uber-expensive watches. The gang members in Cash Landing believe they are smarter than that gang in Goodfellas. Of course, they are not.
In my review of Cash Landing, I said: “Cash Landing’s solid plot is buoyed by Grippando’s strong characters, each of whom has something to hide from the others. Grippando also delivers history lessons along with a tour around Miami, from down-at-the-heels neighborhoods to Lincoln Road in Miami, including a homeless scam that seems to be one of those only in South Florida events.
“Andie plays a major part in Grippando’s recent novels about Miami attorney Jack Swytek. But Cash Landing is set in 2009, before the two met although Swytek plays a pivotal, but small, role at the end,” I added in my review.
Grippando makes the best use of reality as he spins fictional gold with Cash Landing.
Photo: James Grippando; courtesy HarperCollins