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Fugitive charged in $2 million armored vehicle heist

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By Margaret Harding and Jason Cato,

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Dravosburg man killed his fellow security guard, stole more than $2 million from their armored vehicle after picking up money at a casino, visited his parents' home, then took off, authorities said on Wednesday.

"Our belief is that he planned to rob the company, and if he had to kill a guard, he planned to do that," said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. "He shot the guy from close range in the back of the head. That's pretty cold-blooded."

As the manhunt continued, Pittsburgh police charged Kenneth J. Konias Jr., 22, with homicide, robbery and theft in the heist and killing of armored truck guard Michael Haines, 31, of East McKeesport.

Shortly after the slaying, Konias phoned a friend and admitted he killed someone, saying he had enough money so they could both live the rest of their lives without working, the criminal complaint states.

"Konias made statements such as, 'My life is over.'... Witness No. 1 then said to Konias, 'What• Did you kill someone?' ... Konias was silent for several seconds and then he answered, 'Yes,' " according to the complaint.

Konias tried to persuade the friend to run off with him and asked about the extradition laws of Mexico and Canada, the complaint states. The person refused to go with Konias, and the conversation ended.

Detectives pieced together a timeline of the whereabouts of the Garda Cash Logistics truck using video surveillance, Zappala said during a news conference with police. The truck left the Garda facility on 33rd Street in the Strip District at 7:52 a.m. Tuesday and stopped at Rivers Casino on the North Shore to pick up money at 8:47 a.m.

A spokesman for Rivers would not say how much money was transferred.

The truck made several stops before video surveillance put the vehicle at the Home Depot in Ross between 12:51 p.m. and 12:55 p.m.

A witness saw the truck stopped along the mall driveway, heard what appeared to be a gunshot coming from inside and saw the truck speed away toward McKnight Road, the complaint states.

The truck was captured on video near 31st Street about 1:23 p.m. Konias appeared on video at 1:26 p.m., running near the Garda facility, where his Ford Explorer with a Pennsylvania license plate of GZW-4572 was parked.

Because he was empty-handed in the video, police are trying to figure out whether he stopped and stashed the money somewhere. One investigator estimated the money would fill two trash bags.

Police and Garda employees found Haines' body in the locked truck parked beneath the 31st Street Bridge at 3:44 p.m.

City auto squad detectives were driving along 31st Street on an unrelated investigation and observed several Garda employees near the truck. When they stopped to see if anything was wrong and identified themselves as police officers, a Garda manager asked for help.

The detectives saw blood dripping from a truck door to the ground and found Haines' body slumped in the cargo area with his duty handgun missing.

Detectives are reviewing the videos to see whether they can determine when Haines was last seen alive, city police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki said.

The FBI is doing an audit to learn how much money is missing, but investigators put it at more than $2 million.

Police found Konias' uniform jacket with blood on it hanging on a coat hook when they searched the home he shares with his parents. Kenneth Konias Sr. told police his son walked in, hung up the jacket, went upstairs for about three minutes and then left, the complaint states.

"We don't know anything," said Konias' mother, Renee. She declined further comment.

Police recovered Konias' cell phone when a "Good Samaritan" heard it ringing while stopped along Route 51 and picked it up with the intention of returning it to police. Detectives were on the other end of the line.

Konias could be armed with three semi-automatic guns, including one he took from Haines, police said.

"Mr. Konias is considered to be armed and dangerous," Zappala said, adding that this could be a death penalty case.

Police do not believe Haines, who worked for Garda for about three months, was in on the plan, Zappala said.

"All the evidence indicates the deceased is a straight-arrow guy," he said.

There was no answer at Haines' home. A neighbor said the victim lived with roommates.

Garda has offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of Konias, who worked for the company for about a year, Zappala said. The company declined comment, and police would not discuss the company's security procedures.

Industry "best practices" call for crews on the street to report back to headquarters, said Jim McGuffey, an armored car and security management expert in Bluffton, S.C. The frequency can depend on company policy, the amount of money being collected and road distance traveled, he said.

Generally, on a two-man crew, the driver remains inside the vehicle at each stop while the "guard" or "messenger" in the back goes inside to make the pick-up, said McGuffey, who operates A.C.E. Security Consultants.

Nationwide, there were 47 armored car robberies in 2010, and 21 such robberies through June 30, 2011, according to FBI statistics. Both Zappala and Stangrecki said they couldn't recall a previous armored vehicle heist in Pittsburgh.

"You never know what could happen," McGuffey said. "But their largest concern is on the street with unknown variables," not with their partners.

Notable armored vehicle robberies

March 11, 1927

Six members of Pittsburgh's infamous Flatheads Gang, led by Paul Jaworski, committed the first U.S. armored car robbery. The crew used dynamite to blow up a road in what now is Bethel Park to knock off two armored cars from the Brink's Express Co., which were delivering payroll for the Pittsburgh Terminal Coal Co. The gang stole more than $103,000.

March 7, 1979

Two men robbed a Purolator armored truck outside Pittsburgh National Bank in New Kensington and made off with nearly $700,000. A New Kensington man was convicted, while federal authorities said a Swissvale man believed to be involved in the crime was killed by an organized crime member.

March 17, 1982

A Purolator armored truck carrying $2.5 million was robbed in Brentwood. An FBI agent testified in a separate trial that two men associated with the Pittsburgh mafia bragged to an associate about being involved in the heist.

Oct. 4, 2007

A gunman shot and killed two retired city police officers working for Loomis armored truck company as they removed deposits from a Wachovia Bank ATM in northeast Philadelphia. The gunman shot at another armored truck guard before fleeing with a bag of checks and cash deposits.

March 15, 2011

A gunman fatally shot a Garda armored truck guard during a robbery outside an Atlanta grocery store. FBI agents in Georgia linked the suspects in that case to more than a half-dozen other armored car robberies there.

Source: Tribune-Review research

Staff writers Michael Hasch and Eric Slagle contributed to this report.

 

 
 


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