In one night shift, a clumsy plot of thieves west of Charlotte, North Carolina stole over $17 million from Loomis Fargo.
It took a lot longer to pay out the money, and the US government is running out of time to collect the money.
It turned out that most of the thieves and their accomplices were just as effective at concocting court-ordered restitution as they were at hiding their original crimes.
Twenty people were convicted of large and small roles in a major robbery of an armored car depot in 1997 in western Charlotte. Fourteen defendants were ordered to pay restitution to Loomis Fargo totaling nearly $19 million.
So far, only five cents on every dollar have been collected.
Loomis received $978,983.79, according to Sally Butcher, an assistant clerk in federal courts for the Western District of North Carolina who specializes in criminal debt. More than half of the amount came from the confiscation of a luxury home purchased by the accused husband and wife during their post-robbery spending.
That sounds like a lot of money until you compare it to the $18,930,201.26 the band was ordered to pay.
Restitution is a familiar part of sentencing in federal court. The numbers can be staggering. For example, in 2017 Paul Burks of Lexington was ordered to pay $244 million to victims of his worldwide Ponzi scheme, Zeek Rewards. Burks was also ordered to serve 15 years in prison, which limited his ability to keep records.
The General Accounting Office report states that as of fiscal year 2016, $110 billion in restitution ordered by federal courts had not been paid, and that more than 90 percent of the amount was classified as “uncollectible.”
The Loomis case is another example where the amount of ordered restitution and the amount actually paid are two completely different figures.
— This is pretty standard in matters of restitution. Some of that money just went away. It’s on the air. It’s impossible to get him back,” Butcher told The Charlotte Observer. “And with Loomis, we’re only looking at one case. Every year there are several thousand of these things. We don’t have the manpower to keep track of all this (restitution) money… I pay (restitution) to thousands of people, but it’s in drops and crumbs.”
On October 5, the Loomis robbery celebrates its 25th anniversary. Theft—at the time the second-biggest cash robbery in U.S. history—became the brunt of ridicule in films and books, mostly about how thieves, who had little money to begin with, could not control their spending habits once they did it.
The case resurfaced in federal courts on Thursday, Sept. 1, when U.S. Attorney’s in Charlotte released a public reminder in the case file of Defendant Loomis Kelly Campbell that she was behind on restitution. Campbell, a former Loomis employee and one of the original masterminds of the scam, paid out less than $21,000 of the $4,701,694.18 she received.
Campbell’s last official payment was made in June 2021, when the government appears to have secured an $81.24 tax refund, Butcher said.
Jim Gronquist, Campbell’s defense attorney during the Loomis case, says the financial penalties imposed on his client and her co-defendants are grossly excessive and unfair, especially given that much of Loomis’ stolen money was actually returned.
“Anyone who enters this system is a victim of its chewing,” Gronquist, who is now retired, said in an interview with the Observer. “Why do we find it necessary to treat people this way, saying, ‘OK, we’ll just ruin the rest of your life because you made the wrong decision.’
“Punishment should not last a lifetime. Punishment must be fair and realistic. You can’t fine low income people millions of dollars. What purpose does this serve, other than to denigrate this person to extreme poverty?
One figure works in Campbell’s favor. Federal law suspends government tax collection efforts 20 years after a defendant is released from prison. Campbell was released from custody in 2004 after serving five years, meaning her debt collection case will expire in December 2024.
Several Loomis restitution cases have already been closed, either because the amount has been paid in full or because the 20-year deadline has expired.
Many of the lesser conspirators were the most efficient in paying off their debts. Thomas Grant, who served three years in prison for bank theft, paid $70,000 in restitution; brother Eric Grant paid all of his $26,000; like David Craig, $40,000; and Dennis and Sandra Floyd; $27,000.
However, the larger the amount, the greater the damage for the victims, which will probably never be compensated:
- Amy Payne’s collection account was closed in 2020 when she paid $53,000 out of $274,000 owed.
- Jeffrey Guller, who at 81 is the oldest of the Loomis defendants, still owes almost $1.1 million on his original $1.14 million court debt and will remain on the government’s record for another four years. Records show the government embezzled his Social Security checks. Guller was the lawyer for Stephen Chambers, who came up with the original idea of stealing Loomis.
Some of the largest numbers left on the Loomis collection board, as with Campbell, belong to those who played the biggest role in the crime:
- David Gantt, the Loomis employee who loaded all that money – £2,800 in all – into the back of the company’s van before fleeing to Mexico, paid just under $50,000 of the $3.81 million he received. The case of his collection is closed in two years.
- Husband and wife Stephen and Michelle Chambers, whose conspicuous consumption of a luxury home, a BMW convertible, breast implants, and a $600 wooden Indian, among other things, helped the FBI solve the crime, were valued at $3.81 million and $4.8 million, respectively. His collection case, which closes in November 2026, secured a loan for the couple’s $540,000 home on Cramer Mountain in Gaston County, Butcher said. Michelle Chambers paid out only $27,000. Her case closes in 2025.
The Loomis defendants face no additional legal hazard for non-payment of debts. The government does not run debtors’ prisons, says U.S. court clerk Frank Jones of Charlotte.
“You can take pay cuts. You can seize property. But you can’t get blood from a stone,” Jones said. “Criminals usually don’t get high-paying jobs after they get out of prison. Receiving restitution is like pulling teeth.”
Butcher says federal courts in the Western District of North Carolina have never handled cases the way Loomis did. The largest amounts of restitution for financial crime victims are usually associated with Ponzi schemes or lottery scams, not cash theft.
“White-collar criminals are pretty good at hiding their money,” she said. “Those (Loomis) guys aren’t that many.”
In one case, the restitution of defendant Loomis may be a moving target. Eric Payne was released from prison in 2006 for his part in a robbery and has since paid off $11,357 of his $292,000 debt. Payne will again appear in front of Charlotte federal courthouse next month, this time for sentencing on weapons and methamphetamine trafficking charges.
In Campbell’s case, Gronquist says his client was buried in court-ordered debt despite her taking responsibility for what she did and cooperating with prosecutors and the FBI. He says the Loomis case shows how the criminal justice system and courts treat low-income people differently.
“You should get less time for cooperation, less punishment, and instead you see what hit her.” Gronkvist said. “She will never go beyond duty. It means that we will never forgive you for what you have done.”
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