Updated June 29, 2021 - 6:38 pm
Three former 24/7 Private Vaults co-workers were convicted Tuesday of stealing more than $1 million from the business.
“They got it wrong!” Sylviane Whitmore shouted through tears as U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon read the verdicts.
The vault company was robbed in 2012 and burglarized in 2014. The burglary occurred soon after the company had filed for bankruptcy.
Jurors found Whitmore and Phillip Hurbace guilty of planning and carrying out the robbery. Hurbace did some work for the company until 2010.
Larry McDaniel, who was not charged with the robbery, was convicted of money laundering and multiple counts of stolen property.
Whitmore also was convicted of money laundering and interstate transportation of stolen property. Hurbace, who was not present in court Tuesday due to a medical issue, was acquitted of those charges.
“I didn’t do it. I’m sorry, I didn’t do it,” Whitmore hollered into the courtroom as she shook her head and pointed at McDaniel. “And neither did he. We’re not guilty.”
“Ma’am, I don’t want to have to have you removed,” the judge said. “I know this is emotional.”
Prosecutors filed charges against the trio on April 11, 2017, several days before the five-year statute of limitations for the robbery ran out.
They argued that the crimes were inside jobs.
The insiders knew when only one security guard would be on shift, prosecutors said. They also knew how to circumvent the security and enter the vault through the ceiling. And they knew the business was closed in 2014.
“They knew how to get around the security measures, and they took advantage of perfect victims,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mina Chang said in the trial’s closing arguments Monday. “Ones that would not come forward even after they were stolen from.”
False sense of security
The 24/7 Private Vaults building stood in the middle of a half-vacant strip mall east of the airport. Its late founder, Elliot Shaikin, touted the business as safer than banks.
Clients had keys to safe deposit boxes, used an iris scan to access the vault and signed paperwork with an “X” to keep their identities secret. Up to $70 million in cash and valuables were stored there.
But the promises of around-the-clock monitoring by armed guards weren’t true, attorneys said.
In the early hours of April 14, 2012, Kerin Schroeder was working the graveyard security shift. The 70-year-old had just put in a movie when she was shocked with a stun gun, handcuffed and duct-taped to a chair.
Hours later, she dragged herself into the front lobby to call 911 with her feet.
“She was specifically targeted in a well-planned inside job,” Chang said. “She was just one of the internal security weaknesses that former workers exploited in order to steal nearly untraceable cash and valuables.”
‘There was no evidence’
Prosecutors connected the defendants to cash purchases, bank statements and Hurbace’s knowledge about bypassing the security cameras.
But an attorney for Hurbace argued Monday that the cash he used was incremental in comparison with the hundreds of thousands the two other defendants had. Hurbace had used his own money and money he borrowed from his ex-wife to buy his house in California, the attorney said.
And the security guard had described three young men and a woman on a walkie-talkie.
“I believe he didn’t do it. He was gone from that business for two years before this robbery occurred,” said Ozzie Fumo, an attorney for Hurbace, after the verdict. “The evidence showed that Sylviane Whitmore was the mastermind. I think she set up my client.”
Todd Leventhal, who represents McDaniel, said he was blown away by the jury’s decision.
“There was no evidence,” he said. “No proof on the robbery, no proof on the burglary.”
Robert Draskovich, who represents Whitmore, also maintained his client’s innocence.
“It was clear that the jury could not get over the large deposits made by our respective clients,” he said. “It sends the message to the rest of America: Don’t make large cash deposits. It’s a red flag for prosecution.”
The judge said he would decide what property and money Whitmore and McDaniel should forfeit to the government as a result of their convictions.
All three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in September.