May 19, 2014
01:48 PM
Connecticut Today

New Guilty Plea in Connecticut’s Biggest Heist, at Eli Lilly Warehouse

New Guilty Plea in Connecticut’s Biggest Heist, at Eli Lilly Warehouse

Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Later this month, Amaury Villa is scheduled to be sentenced for his role in an $80 million robbery of an Enfield pharmaceutical warehouse; his brother Amed Villa pleaded guilty last summer. In April, three more men were charged in the case. Meanwhile court documents from the case read like the script of a Hollywood crime movie:

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.

(For comparison, the famous Lufthansa airport heist, immortalized in the film "Goodfellas" netted roughly $20 million by today's standards. Here's a list of some of the biggest heists ever) 

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.

 

 

Pharmaceutical drug robberies have increased over the last decade. While thieves used to primarily target prescription pain killers and sell them to recreational drug users, they now target expensive brand name drugs that can be sold on the black market, at huge profits, to buyers who are not using them to get high but as medicine. The drugs stolen from the Eli Lilly warehouse include anti-cancer drugs, antidepressants and drugs for schizophrenia—not drugs normally associated with junkies, but ones that are associated with high retail prices.

Many stolen drugs are sold overseas where it’s harder for authorities to track them. It appears from court documents that those involved with the Enfield robbery were hoping to tap into that overseas market. In 2011, Amaury Villa attempted to sell the stolen pharmaceuticals to Suhong Wu and Roberto Garcia, who are both codefendants in the case. Wu had brokered the sale of the pharmaceuticals to Garcia, who was selling them to another person that they believed was going to ship them out of the country, the documents say.

Amaury Villa and Wu met on several occasions for cash deals in car parking lots, according to the documents. With Wu as an intermediate, Amaury Villa allegedly sold approximately 2466 bottles of Zyprexa and 1104 bottles of Cymbalta to Garcia, for which Garcia’s buyer paid a total of approximately $150,000. According to court documents, the legitimate value of these product was $1.4 million.

Unbeknownst to any of the men involved in the transaction, Garcia’s buyer was a confidential source working for the FBI. Through that source the FBI was led to the warehouse where the goods were being stored in Doral, Florida. In May of 2012, Amaury and Amed Villa were arrested.

During the investigation, the water bottle Amed Villa had touched during the Enfield robbery was discovered and it was determined that it contained his DNA. The find was credited as a major break in the case for investigators. As details of the arrest emerged, investigators in other parts of the country began to connect the Villa brothers to other warehouse robberies and additional charges were brought against them.

In the summer of 2013, confronted with mounting DNA evidence, Amed Villa pleaded guilty to the Enfield robbery and robberies in Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois. Last week, Amed Villa’s attorney, Jonathan J. Einhorn of New Haven, explained that he and his client decided that the best course of action was to plead guilty and be tried for all the crimes under Connecticut law.

“Our strategy was to consolidate,” Einhorn said. “Connecticut is a more reasonable state in which to be sentenced than some of the harsher courts in the South.”

Nunez, Marquez and Lopez were charged in April.

Despite the evidence against him, Amaury Villa did not plead guilty until earlier this month. His lawyer, Maria Elena Perez, who practices in Coral Gables Florida, argued that the value of the stolen pharmaceuticals were being inflated.

"All we want is fairness and justice. My client never denied that he went into the warehouse,” Perez said. “I think the main issues are the actual amount lost and whether or not there's a real victim."

Amaury Villa is scheduled to be sentenced on July 24. Amed Villa is also awaiting sentencing.

Contact me by email eofgang@connecticutmag.com and follow me on Twitter, and connect with Connecticut Magazine on Twitter, on Facebook and Google +

New Guilty Plea in Connecticut’s Biggest Heist, at Eli Lilly Warehouse

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