Feds: An ice cream social was part of Anchorage bank employee’s $4.3M heist
A movie-like account of a former KeyBank employee’s $4.3 million theft from an Anchorage vault was filed by federal prosecutors this week, making their case for him to spend nine years in prison after serving seven in Mexico.
A Monday sentencing memo for former vault manager Gerardo “Gary” Adam Cazarez-Valenzuela also seeks to have him spend five years on supervised release and pay $535,680 in restitution to KeyBank. Valenzuela, who was extradited to the U.S. last fall, has pleaded guilty to one count of theft of bank funds; he will be sentenced later this month.
Valenzuela’s attorneys filed seeking a sentence of probation in the case, saying his Mexican prison term constituted just punishment for the crime. In a statement, Valenzuela said his “incarceration in the filthiest place imaginable” has taught him a lesson.
“Although I intended to help my dad with medical expenses, I inadvertently dragged him and my brothers into a chaos of consequences,” Valenzuela wrote. “I accept full responsibility for my actions, and although I was heavily addicted to cocaine and alcohol, there is no excuse for how selfish and inconsiderate I was.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Steward said in the federal sentencing memo that the audacious July 29, 2011 robbery, in which Valenzuela allegedly fled Anchorage in a private jet chartered with funds stolen from the bank a day earlier, is one of the state’s largest thefts to appear in federal court during the last decade.
Valenzuela’s plans for the robbery began to unfold in June 2011, Steward said, when he asked one of his brothers to obtain a gun for him.
“Months prior to his theft, he told his girlfriend that he could rob the bank noting that the bank had video surveillance but no physical surveillance at that time,” Steward wrote. “The defendant’s motive to rob his employer was his concern that KeyBank was going to make his position obsolete and he would be out of a job.”
In July 2011, Steward said Valenzuela led new bank employees through false training, “effectively removing dual controls over the vault” and facilitating the theft. On July 26 of that month, he bought his girlfriend a plane ticket from Anchorage to Seattle, and on July 28 he stole $30,000 from the bank — using $24,000 of that money to charter a jet.
On July 29, another key deception of Valenzuela’s — a Friday ice cream social he had hosted for employees — gave him the opportunity to stay after closing and clean up after the party.
“Late at night and without dual controls in place, the defendant was able to access the vault without another employee present,” Steward wrote. “His plan to falsely train new employees worked. The defendant boxed up $4.3 [million] in cash in the vault, rolled it out of the vault to his car in the parking lot, and loaded the money to his car.”
Valenzuela left the vault time-locked for as long as possible, until the following Tuesday, then boarded the jet he had chartered and flew from Anchorage to Seattle. While he was there, he left $500,000 of stolen money with relatives as a “fail safe plan,” picking up an AK-47 rifle and a handgun from his brother.
On July 30, Valenzuela and his girlfriend checked out of a Seattle hotel and bought a car for $19,000. After driving through California they reached Tijuana, Mexico on July 31, leaving the car and boarding a bus headed for the home of Valenzuela’s uncle.
The elaborate scheme fell apart the next day, however, due to an act of random chance.
“On Monday morning, August 1, 2011, the defendant and his girlfriend were stopped at an interior checkpoint in Mexico,” Steward wrote. “Their luggage was randomly searched by Mexican authorities. The guns and $3.8 million in stolen cash were seized by the Mexican authorities for smuggling violations.”
From theft to arrest, Steward said, Valenzuela’s crime had unfolded before KeyBank was even aware of the crime because of the locked vault back in Anchorage.
“The next day, Tuesday August 2, 2011, the vault was finally opened when the timer on the lock ran out and it was discovered that the defendant had stolen $4.3 million in cash,” Steward wrote. “The defendant and his girlfriend were already in Mexico by the time Keybank discovered the defendant’s theft.”
Valenzuela’s family claimed that $400,000 of the $500,000 he had left behind was stolen from his father — an assertion Steward sharply questioned, noting that both the defendant and his brother had referred to the $500,000 as a “fail safe plan” in case of Valenzuela’s arrest.
“The theft was never reported to the police and the story told by the defendant’s brother is highly improbable; that their father left all of the money sitting overnight in the back of his truck in a bad neighborhood in Washington and it was stolen,” Steward wrote. “There is not a single indicia of veracity to this story or anything to corroborate it.”
Steward also noted that Valenzuela’s family had made at least $27,500 in payments to attorneys for him, including $17,500 in cash. More money emerged later, when police visited the same brother who had provided Valenzuela with the guns he requested.
“[The brother] had $27,500 seized in a drug raid on his house that led to his felony conviction for drug trafficking,” Steward wrote. “The $27,500 was later determined to have been KeyBank money, not drug money.”
Valenzuela had no indication of a drug abuse history prior to his arrest, Steward said. She blasted any concept of reducing his sentence based on the time he spent behind bars in Mexico.
“Absent a random search at an interior Mexican checkpoint, the defendant would be sipping margaritas and enjoying his millions in stolen money hidden safely from law enforcement outside the United States,” Steward wrote. “That he now seeks credit toward his sentence in this district based on his choice to flee to Mexico is wildly inappropriate.”
Steward said Valenzuela’s case eclipses Alaska’s previous federal case involving a seven-figure loss: the $2.7 million defrauded from Alaskans by Washington resident Floyd Jay Mann, Jr. A judge handed down a 10-year prison sentence for Mann in 2017, after he pleaded guilty to bilking Dillingham residents and others out of money by falsely offering them part of a class-action lawsuit settlement if they helped him with medical bills.
“While the impacts to the victims in that case were more significant than this case, the dollar amount in that case was smaller than in this case, and there were no dangerous weapons involved in that case,” Steward wrote. “Additionally, the defendant in the Mann case did not obstruct the administration of justice in that case.”
KeyBank expended over $500,000 in legal fees to recover the $3.8 million seized in Mexico, according to Steward. The bank also closed the Anchorage vault and various others, with the theft leading to multiple layoffs.
“Prior to his theft, the defendant had stated to employees at KeyBank on several occasions, ‘You can trust me with your life but not your money,’” Steward wrote.
Federal court records show Valenzuela’s sentencing hearing scheduled for April 29, before Chief U.S. District Judge Tim Burgess.
Janis Harper contributed information to this story.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.