Mar 17, 2015
09:23 AMConnecticut Today
Sentencings Begin in Connecticut’s Biggest Heist, at Eli Lilly Warehouse
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Update: On the evening of March 13, 2010, at an Eli Lilly Company storage warehouse in Enfield, a group of Florida men pulled off one of the biggest heists in history, making off with between $50 and $100 million worth of pharmaceuticals. A half-decade later the repercussions of the crime are still being sorted out.
In February, Alexander Marquez, 41, of Hialeah, Fla., who had previously pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 12 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for his role in the crime.
Another men involved, Rafael Lopez, who also pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 75 months of imprisonment earlier in February. Brothers Amaury Villa and Amed Villa, who appear to have masterminded the heist, have also pleaded guilty, as has another accomplice named Rafael Lopez. The Villa brothers and Lopez await sentencing.
The crime was executed with sophistication and precision, and was reminiscent of a Hollywood crime caper. Prior to the theft, members of the group made a trip to Connecticut to scout out the warehouse and its surrounding area. On the night of the heist Marquez drove a tractor-trailer truck to the warehouse. Amaury and Amed Villa climbed to the roof of the warehouse, cut a hole in it, then lowered themselves into the facility using ropes. Once inside the warehouse, they disabled the alarm system. Later that night, the Villa brothers and Nunez loaded more than 40 pallets of assorted pharmaceuticals into the tractor-trailer.
The story below was originally published last May and examines the crime in greater detail.
It was going to be the score of a lifetime.
On the night of Saturday, March 13, 2010, brothers Amed and Amaury Villa (right) arrived at a warehouse in Enfield, Connecticut, owned by the international pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. At 9:33 p.m. their alleged conspirator Alexander Marquez drove a recently leased tractor trailer up to the warehouses loading dock, court documents claim. Between 10:22 and 10:32 the Villa brothers were captured by security footage carrying a ladder across the loading dock.
As a light rain fell, they climbed up to the facility roof, then used tools— purchased with cash the day before at a Home Depot in Flushing, N.Y.—to cut a hole in the roof. They lowered ropes and rappelled inside the warehouse, where they disabled the alarm system and opened the loading dock doors.
Working into the early morning hours of March 14, the Villa brothers used the facility forklift to load approximately 49 pallets of pharmaceuticals onto the tractor trailer; including boxes of Zyprexa, Cymbalta, Prozac, and Gemzar. Another alleged conspirator, Rafael Lopez, was in the vicinity of the Enfield warehouse and communicated by cellphone with those inside the warehouse during the robbery.
Throughout, the Villa brothers and their alleged conspirators were meticulous and professional, too professional say some.
According to allegations made by Eli Lilly’s insurer, National Union Fire Insurance Co., the brothers were acting with inside knowledge. In a multimillion dollar ongoing lawsuit against the building’s security firm, the insurer charged that the thieves knew where to cut through the roof to avoid security detectors, and where to rappel down ropes so they landed at the only point on the warehouse floor invisible to surveillance cameras—and knew to park their tractor trailer at the sole loading bay that surveillance cameras couldn’t see.
Despite the precision of the robbery, there were still mistakes. While loading drugs onto the tractor trailer, Amed Villa (left) touched a water bottle within the warehouse and left it behind. That bottle and the genetic signature it now contained would come back to haunt him.
At about 3:40 a.m. (six hours and seven minutes after security footage showed their truck first arriving at the warehouse) the men drove off into the night. They had just taken approximately $80 million worth of medicine and completed what remains the biggest heist in Connecticut history, the biggest known robbery of pharmaceuticals in U.S. history, and one of the biggest scores in history
Later that night and for a long time afterwards it looked like they were going to get away with it.
The heist wasn't discovered until the following afternoon, when an employee went to work.
The Enfield warehouse is one of three distribution centers in the nation owned by the Eli Lilly and Company, which has its headquarters in Indianapolis. Both company officials and local law enforcement agents were initially stumped by the robbery. The Tuesday after the crime, Edward Sagebiel, a spokesman for Eli Lilly, told The Hartford Courant that the theft “certainly has the appearance of a sophisticated, well-planned criminal action.”
“Well-planned” the crime certainly was. Both Amaury Villa (who is now 39) and Amed Villa, who is about 10 years older, are citizens of Cuba who lived in Miami, Fla. Though they had never done something of this magnitude, the Villa brothers were no strangers to warehouse heists; they were part of group responsible for a string of similar warehouse robberies in multiple states. Amed Villa has since pleaded guilty to multimillion-dollar warehouse burglaries in Illinois, Virginia, Florida, and Kentucky.
The January before the Enfield robbery, Amaury Villa and another alleged conspirator, Yosmany Nunez, had traveled to Connecticut. On January 8, Amaury Villa and an unidentified individual (believed to be Nunez) checked into the Hyatt Summerfield Suites located in Windsor. On the night of January 9, surveillance video at the Enfield warehouse captured an individual looking through the front door of the warehouse. On January 10, Amaury Villa and Nunez flew via American airlines from LaGaurdia Airport in New York to Miami. Nunez returned to Connecticut in late January. Whatever plans were made after those visits were effective.
By the time the media began reporting the crime, the tractor trailer containing the stolen goods was long gone from Connecticut. Between March 14 and March 15, Marquez drove the truck to Florida, court documents say. Over the next few days Marquez, the Villa brothers and Nunez unloaded the stolen drugs into a public storage facility in the Miami area. Then the group began looking for buyers.