Suspicion surrounds I-95 gold heist as investigation continues
Posted March 4, 2015
Updated March 5, 2015
Wilson, N.C. — Authorities said Wednesday they are not calling a $4.8 million gold heist near Wilson an “inside job,” but they are still investigating all the angles in the bizarre case of two armed guards who were robbed of the precious cargo as they stopped their truck along Interstate 95.
A search warrant indicated that deputies initially thought the crime, which happened Sunday night when the guards pulled over near mile marker 114, was as inside job. But Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard Jr. said that was due to a language barrier because both guards spoke Spanish and only broken English.
Once Spanish-speaking investigators were able to interview the driver and passenger, the chain of events surrounding the heist became more clear, Woodard said. He said the men have been cooperating and remain in Wilson, although they are not in custody.
“We're still uncovering a lot of things because right now, we're unable to say whether it's going to be considered suspicious or not suspicious," Woodard said during a news conference Wednesday. "We’re still going to investigate to the fullest and make a determination then.”
The drama unfolded about 6:50 p.m. Sunday when witnesses called 911 to report two men who were zip-tied and bound, wandering in the roadway. Deputies arrived within eight minutes and began sorting out what happened.
Driver Yole Gonzalez and his passenger Luiz Mendez told investigators they were on their way from Miami to Massachusetts to deliver a haul of gold bars when they stopped their truck near Wilson because they smelled gasoline and started getting sick. Initial reports indicated they had pulled over because of mechanical problems, but Woodard said no mechanical problems were found when the truck was inspected after the crime.
Mendez exited the vehicle to get some fresh air, the warrants said, As he went around the back, he was met by two assailants who spoke Spanish and announced themselves as police, Woodard said. Gonzalez heard the commotion, left the truck and was also confronted by the robbers.
Woodard said both guards were armed but did not have their guns with them when they got out of the truck.
The robbers bound the men, broke a padlock on the back of the truck and stole about 275 pounds in gold bars, each weighing about 25 pounds. Woodard said the lock was "a Master Lock, one that you can purchase out of Lowe's," which might have been used as part of the transport company's security protocol.
Investigators released composite sketches of two of the three robbers. One was described as about 40 years old, heavy and spoke Spanish with a Cuban accent. The other was described as a dark-skinned Hispanic male with a white beard and goatee who wore a black hooded jacket and black combat-style boots.
The guards told investigators they did not get a good look at the third robber, who was the one who broke the lock. The robbers placed orange safety cones around the truck as they off-loaded the bars into a white van, Woodard said. The robbers did not take all of the gold bars that were in the truck.
The guards are employed by TransValue Inc., which according to its website, is a Miami-based company that transports valuables between financial institutions. The company is cooperating with authorities and is offering a $50,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest.
Investigators said it's possible that the truck had been under surveillance since the driver stopped for gas in South Carolina. The company's owner told deputies that they had only used the specific travel route once before.
Woodard said investigators have no leads on where the gold bars might be now and have reached out to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI for help. He said the bars are laced with a chemical to help identify them if they are melted down.
When pressed about the possibility that the Gonzlaez and Mendez were somehow involved in the heist, Woodard said all leads will be investigated.
"There's always suspicion," he said. "There's suspicion about everything going on in this case."
He also vowed to keep the public informed.
"There’s a lot of other leads that we’re following behind, ladies and gentlemen, and we’ll definitely make sure that you’re made aware of as we get closer to try to unravel what actually happened on the side of I-95," he said.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office at 252-237-2118.