The crew of crooks used blowtorches to cut into the tops of the banks’ vaults from the roofs of the buildings.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The purported mastermind of two city bank heists that seemingly set new caper records was sentenced recently to more than 11 years in federal prison.
Michael Mazzara, 45, was facing a maximum of 20 years at his sentencing hearing in Manhattan earlier this month after pleading guilty in December to two counts of bank theft. Instead, he received 135 months behind bars for his role in the 2016 burglaries of an HSBC branch in Brooklyn and Maspeth Federal Savings on Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park.
Judge Katherine Forrest’s lenient sentence “was thanks to Mazzara’s decision” to return all the cash, jewelry, and other valuable items he had left from the two audacious jobs, American organized crime expert Jerry Capeci wrote on his Gang Land News site.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has publicly maintained that the four-man crew led by Mazzara had stolen a combined total of approximately $5 million in cash, jewelry, diamonds, stock certificates, baseball cards, and other valuables from bank vaults and safety deposit boxes. However, according to Capeci, the haul is an astounding $20,887,360.38—and still growing, making it the second-largest bank burglary in U.S. history.
“Through their brazen bank heists, the defendants allegedly stole not just people’s money, but their memories too, leaving in their destructive wake gaping holes and looted vaults,” said then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
For both jobs the crew used acetylene blowtorches to cut into the top of the banks’ vaults from the roof of the building. At the Maspeth Federal burglary, they shielded their activities from view by constructing a plywood shed on the roof of the bank. They then entered the vaults from above, broke open hundreds of safety deposit boxes, and took both cash and valuables.
The thieves obtained the largest portion of their booty from the four-day (May 19 through May 22, 2016) Maspeth Federal heist, which forced management to shutter the crippled branch until the roof and deposit boxes could be fully repaired.
Surveillance footage captured some of the crew’s activities as they prepared for and executed the burglaries, authorities said. Financial records and video clips also showed Mazzara purchasing some of the hardware and supplies that appear to have been used at Maspeth Federal.
“These bank jobs also left enough of a trace for the FBI and NYPD, whose good old-fashioned police work led to the charges and arrests” announced in July 2016.
“These heists resembled scenes from the movie ‘Heat’ – the work of a crew that was well organized, meticulous, and elusive to law enforcement,” said then-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. “This investigation was conducted with painstaking persistence. Left with few clues after the heists, our Crime Scene teams hunted for every shred of evidence. From the plywood purchased at a nearby Home Depot, to the torches from a Brooklyn welder used to muscle into the vault, the picture slowly came into focus, resulting in today’s arrests and charges.”