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Spruce Lee

The Untold Story of the World's Biggest Diamond Heist

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Saw this awhile ago and thought it was worth sharing...

Leonardo Notarbartolo strolls into the prison visiting room trailing a guard as if the guy were his personal assistant. The other convicts in this eastern Belgian prison turn to look. Notarbartolo nods and smiles faintly, the laugh lines crinkling around his blue eyes. Though he's an inmate and wears the requisite white prisoner jacket, Notarbartolo radiates a sunny Italian charm. A silver Rolex peeks out from under his cuff, and a vertical strip of white soul patch drops down from his lower lip like an exclamation mark.

 

In February 2003, Notarbartolo was arrested for heading a ring of Italian thieves. They were accused of breaking into a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center and making off with at least $100 million worth of loose diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils. The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can't explain exactly how it was done.

 

The loot was never found, but based on circumstantial evidence, Notarbartolo was sentenced to 10 years. He has always denied having anything to do with the crime and has refused to discuss his case with journalists, preferring to remain silent for the past six years.

 

Until now.

 

Notarbartolo sits down across from me at one of the visiting room's two dozen small rectangular tables. He has an intimidating reputation. The Italian anti-Mafia police contend he is tied to the Sicilian mob, that his cousin was tapped to be the next capo dei capi—the head of the entire organization. Notarbartolo intends to set the record straight. He puts his hands on the table. He has had six years to think about what he is about to say.

 

"I may be a thief and a liar," he says in beguiling Italian-accented French. "But I am going to tell you a true story."

 

It was February 16, 2003 — a clear, frozen Sunday evening in Belgium. Notarbartolo took the E19 motorway out of Antwerp. In the passenger seat, a man known as Speedy fidgeted nervously, damp with sweat. Notarbartolo punched it, and his rented Peugeot 307 sped south toward Brussels. They hadn't slept in two days.

 

Speedy scanned the traffic behind them in the side-view mirror and maintained a tense silence. Notarbartolo had worked with him for 30 years—they were childhood buddies—but he knew that his friend had a habit of coming apart at the end of a job. The others on the team hadn't wanted Speedy in on this one—they said he was a liability. Notarbartolo could see their point, but out of loyalty, he defended his friend. Speedy could handle it, he said.

 

And he had. They had executed the plan perfectly: no alarms, no police, no problems. The heist wouldn't be discovered until guards checked the vault on Monday morning. The rest of the team was already driving back to Italy with the gems. They'd rendezvous outside Milan to divvy it all up. There was no reason to worry. Notarbartolo and Speedy just had to burn the incriminating evidence sitting in a garbage bag in the backseat.

 

it continues at http://www.wired.com/politics/law/magazine/17-04/ff_diamonds?currentPage=all

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That's weird, I was thinking about this earlier today (I read it in Wired when it came out) and was planning to look up the article tonight. Thanks for saving me the hassle.

 

I agree, it's a pretty crazy story. They would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for those meddling kids.

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