Cash Landing (A prequel featuring FBI Agent Andie Henning with an appearance by Jack Swyteck)
Every week, a hundred million dollars in cash arrives at Miami International Airport, shipped by German banks to the Federal Reserve. A select group of trusted workers moves the bags through Customs and loads them into armored trucks.
Ruban Betancourt has always played by the rules. But the bank taking his house and his restaurant business going bust has driven him over the edge. He and his wife deserve more than life has handed them, and he’s come up with a ballsy scheme to get it. With the help of an airport insider, he, his coke-head brother-in-law, Jeffrey, and two ex-cons surprise the guards loading the armored trucks and speed off with $7.4 million in the bed of a pickup truck.
Investigating the heist, FBI agent Andie Henning, newly transferred to Miami from Seattle, knows the best way to catch the thieves is to follow the money. Jeffrey’s drug addiction is as conspicuous as the Rolex watches he buys for dancers at the Gold Rush strip club. One of the ex-cons, Pinky Perez, makes no secret of his plan to own a swinger’s club—which will allow him carte blanche with his patrons’ wives. Levelheaded Ruban is desperately trying to lay low and hold things together.
But Agent Henning isn’t the only one on their trail, and in the mob-meets-Miami fashion, these accidental thieves suddenly find themselves way in over their heads . . . and sinking fast.
Praise for "Cash Landing"
"Fast paced ... recalls the caper novels of Donald E. Westlake."
"The perfect summer read."
- The National Examiner
"Grippando makes the best use of reality as he spins fictional gold in CASH LANDING."
- Mystery Scene
THE TRUE STORY BEHIND CASH LANDING
“It reads like a movie script . . . Only this was no blockbuster action film. It was a real-life crime drama straight from the streets of Miami.”
Those aren’t James Grippando’s words. They come straight from the FBI’s official website, the bureau’s own description of one of the biggest airport heists in history—$7.8 million in cash stolen by a band of amateur thieves. That real life caper is the inspiration for James Grippando’s twenty-fourth thriller, Cash Landing (HarperCollins Publishers June 2, 2015).
Who were the real life crooks? The “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, Onelio Diaz. Diaz was Monzon’s neighbor and friend since childhood, and he 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.
How much cash are we talking about? Every week a 747 leaves Frankfurt and lands at MIA with anywhere from $80 million to $100 million in U.S. dollars in the cargo belly. German banks don’t need all those fifty- and hundred-dollar bills, and much of Miami’s economy runs on cash.
How did this rag-tag group pull off the heist? The cash is shipped in 38-pound bags, each holding almost $2 million in bricks of bills. The bags have to be opened to clear customs in a warehouse at MIA. Diaz, the security guard, told Monzon about the security failings inside the warehouse: The bills lay exposed; the security cameras didn’t work; the guards removed their guns before entering the building; and most alluring of all, the warehouse’s enormous bay doors led directly onto the street, which meant that any getaway vehicle could bypass the perimeter fence and the airport gatehouse. For an even cut of the haul, Diaz signaled to Monzon when it was time to strike. The gang drove up to the loading dock in a pickup, covered their faces with bandanas, brandished a handgun, and hurried to grab as many bags of cash as they could carry. They dropped one of the forty-pound bags their way out, but they still managed to speed away with Monzon’s cokehead brother-in-law at the wheel and $7.8 million in the bed of the pickup.
How did they get caught? They started flashing money—especially Monzon’s brother-in-law, who loved strippers even more than cocaine. He started buying dancers $40,000 Rolex watches. An unidentified informant tipped off law enforcement, and the FBI got a wiretap on Monzon’s cellphone. But the FBI was only half their problem. A rival gang kidnapped Monzon’s brother-in-law and demanded a hefty ransom—all of which the FBI was monitoring by wiretap. When it appeared that Monzon’s brother-in-law was in imminent danger, the FBI swooped in. They arrested Monzon, his wife, and Diaz. After a high speed chase, another group of agents nabbed the kidnappers and Monzon’s brother-in-law.
Where are they now? Federal prison. Monzon, Diaz and the rest of his gang got long prison sentences. The kidnappers got even longer ones—35 years.
Was the money recovered? Only about a million dollars was recovered. The rest? Only the gang knows.
How did you find out about it? The federal judge who presided at the trial is a friend. He’s been on the bench for years, and he told me that this was the wildest case he’d ever seen—and, mind you, he sits in Miami, where “bizarre” is an everyday occurrence. He said, “James, you’ve got to write a book about this.”
How did you turn this true crime story into a work of fiction?
I considered writing it as nonfiction, but the best sources weren’t available. Monzon and his gang are up for parole soon, and I can’t blame them for not wanting to talk to me. You may recall that the movie Goodfellas, which was based on the real life airport heist at JFK in 1978, was made possible by the book “Wise Guys” written by the mob informant Henry Hill. To this day, the FBI has not identified the informant who tipped off the FBI about Monzon and his gang. In the end, Cash Landing just works better as fiction. It’s a face paced and compelling story that allowed me to further develop one of my favorite characters, FBI Agent Andie Henning, who has appeared in nine of my previous novels.