MIAMI (AP) - A Florida man was sentenced Monday to more than 11 years in prison for helping plot and carry out the sophisticated armed robbery of gold bars valued at $4.8 million from a truck that was stopped using remote-control devices along a remote stretch of Interstate 95 in North Carolina.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard said at a hearing that the actions of Adalberto Perez, 46, and two accomplices were "horrific" and sentenced Perez at the high end of federal guidelines following his guilty plea to theft and firearms charges.
"This is an extremely violent, sophisticated, well thought-out crime in which this defendant played a pivotal role," the judge said.
According to court documents, the thieves installed a GPS tracking device on the TransValue Inc. tractor-trailer carrying a shipment of gold, silver and other metals from Miami-based Republic Metals to a processing plant in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, on March 1, 2015. The plant serves jewelry makers in the Boston area.
The robbers also had secretly installed pepper spray canisters inside the truck's cab that could be set off by remote control. When the tractor-trailer reached a dark area along I-95 in Wilson County, North Carolina, the noxious gas coming through a hole in the cab's floor sickened the two TransValue employees inside.
Lenard, reading from court documents, said the truck's occupants were so ill they began coughing and vomiting and had to pull over. When they stumbled out, men with guns were shouting at them in Spanish, the judge said. The men had set out orange cones to make the roadside scene appear to be a normal breakdown.
Lenard said one victim reported they were told: "Do not move, we are the police. If you move I will kill you. We know where you live. Your family will be killed if you do anything foolish."
The truck occupants' hands were tied behind their backs and they were marched into a wooded area. Neither was seriously injured. The thieves then loaded the 275 pounds of gold bars and some silver into a waiting van before speeding off.
The case went unsolved for a year, until a friend of Perez's contacted the FBI and agreed to become an informant. The friend said Perez showed her one of the gold bars at his home. She said she watched as Perez chipped away pieces to sell bit by bit, and she used her cellphone to take photos of this gold and the tools Perez used, according to an FBI affidavit.
Lenard said Perez, who has a previous aggravated assault conviction using a baseball bat, provided the weapons for the gold truck robbery. She agreed with Perez lawyer Bill Barzee, however, that Perez played a lesser role in planning the heist than co-conspirator Roberto Cabrera -- who is now serving a nearly 20-year prison sentence after also pleading guilty.
Authorities say nearly all of the stolen gold has disappeared, although the Justice Department is seeking forfeiture of assets such as cars, real estate, boats and jewelry that can be tied to the theft. The loss was covered by insurance.
Last year, Miguel Bover was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to an extortion charge, stemming from an attempt to sell one of the stolen bars at a pawn shop. Bover, however, was not directly involved in the robbery itself, nor was the informant.
The third conspirator in the robbery has never been publicly identified or charged.