Who Were Those Masked Men, Anyway?

Categories: Longform

Witnesses told police that the robbers were three white males in their thirties or forties.
At 8:09 a.m. on Valentine's Day 2012, Liloutie Ramnanan pulled her sedan into the parking lot of the Pay-O-Matic Check Cashing on South Conduit Avenue in South Jamaica, Queens. She'd worked as a teller there for 16 years. It was a steady job. It paid better than minimum wage and business was good. The economy had been improving but there remained enough distrust in traditional banks to keep a steady stream of customers at her window.

There was one other car, a black Ford Explorer, in the square, fenced-in lot. The Explorer was not in any of the lot's dozen spaces, but sitting in a "No Parking" zone along the one-story building's side wall. Ramnanan had seen the vehicle in the lot many times before, two or three times a week for the past month. It had been there when she arrived for work yesterday, too. There were always three men in the SUV, three white men, each with a police badge hanging from a chain around his neck. All those mornings, she'd never noticed any of them get out of the vehicle. There was probably some big investigation going on. A coworker had recently been fired for cashing forged checks.

As she walked toward the building's entrance, the man in the driver's seat of the SUV stepped out and cut her off in the middle of the lot. He was bald with a brown goatee, a large, hulking man who towered over her five-foot-five frame. He wore sunglasses and a navy blue jacket with "NYPD" in yellow letters on the front.

The thieves' biggest mistake: leaving a photo of the Pay-O-Matic teller's house at the crime scene.
He asked her if she worked at the Pay-O-Matic and she said she did. He pulled a photo from his pocket and showed it to her. It was a picture of a house. He asked her if it looked familiar, and she said no. He pulled out a second photo of an unfamiliar house. Then he showed her a third.

"That house is my house," Ramnanan said. She became worried. Had something terrible happened at home? Had something happened to her husband or their son?

Then the man gestured toward the Pay-O-Matic and asked, "Who is inside?"

She told him that Sean Anderson, the teller who worked the overnight shift, was.

Something about the question seemed off to her. Something about this man and his photos didn't seem right, either. It suddenly dawned on her what was going on: This was a robbery.

He told her to enter the building. He walked behind her with a hand on her back. She could hear the two other men from the car following behind them. "Ask Sean to open the door," the bald man said.

Anderson was just finishing up with the only customer in the building. Ramnanan and the bald man approached the bulletproof glass window separating the customer area from locked teller area, which employees call "the cage."

"Sean, can you open the door?" Ramnanan said. "Sean, open the door, please."

"Sean, don't touch anything," the bald man said. "Open the door."

Anderson buzzed open the first door, which led into a vestibule, then swung open another door, which led into the cage. A second man in an NYPD jacket followed them into the cage, while a third, dressed in the same outfit, stood by the front door with the customer. The second man was much shorter and thinner than the one who first approached Ramnanan, and he wore a hat. Ramnanan was quiet, and Anderson didn't seem to know what was happening until the smaller man raised his arm and pointed a pistol at him, and ordered the two employees to drop to the ground.

The bald man went straight to the safe, which was already open, and piled the cash into a black garbage bag. The smaller man opened a drawer below the counter and dumped the cash from the till into his own bag. He then pulled out a juice bottle, uncapped it, and splashed a clear liquid all over the place — the counter, the safe, the door. Then the men left. It was 8:13 a.m. and they had just stolen $200,755.89.

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