Anthony Curcio is the world’s nicest bank robber. Friendly, talkative and generous with his time, it’s hard to imagine that the affable American voice at the other end of the phone belongs to the same man who, on September 30, 2008, overpowered the armed guards of a Brinks armoured vehicle, grabbed the best part of half a million dollars in cash and then vanished into thin air.
It was an audacious robbery, with over six weeks of meticulous planning that would eventually lead to a cast of twenty extras, a healthy amount of pepper spray, a daring escape down a creek and the perfect ‘he would have got away with it if it wasn’t for the pesky homeless man who saw everything’ ending.
Curcio didn’t just wake up one day and decide to rob an armoured vehicle. The money was to fund an increasingly criminal lifestyle that was spiralling out of control, a journey that began with prescription painkillers for a University football injury, and ended with six years in prison. Nobody really knows how much he stole, mainly because he gave up counting at $320k, but the official figure is $400k, of which Anthony managed to spend a mere $20k.
Curcio was guilty but the extras were genuinely innocent. Twenty unemployed men and women had answered an online advert looking for casual day labour promising $28.50 an hour, arriving on time dressed as instructed: high visibility vest and hat. One of them, of course, was Anthony, mingling with the crowd, ready to make his move.
When he did move, the university wide receiver moved fast. He charged the vehicle, pepper sprayed the guards, grabbed the money and ran. His escape plan was as meticulous as the heist and while the police were still frantically setting up a state-wide manhunt, Curcio was gone, the money laundered, the trail dead.
The good times would last less than a month. A homeless man had seen Anthony remove his disguise during an earlier surveillance mission and took his license plate number. Curcio became a suspect, his DNA was matched to the disguise he left behind, and from there the Feds pulled in every one of his known criminal associates. It wasn’t long before one of them inevitably sold him out and Anthony Curcio, the talented wide receiver who once looked destined to be a university superstar, went to prison for six years.
Inside, Curcio ironically achieved what he couldn’t in the real world: freedom. He served his full time, including almost a year in solitary confinement, and left his addiction and rage in the cells, emerging calm, clean and with a steely determination to never return to his former life. Today he is something of a Renaissance man; a Ted Talk speaker, a best selling children’s author and a football coach for a local youth team. It’s a true journey of redemption, made all the more impressive when you consider that nearly 80% of all criminals in America return to prison within five years of release.
Would it have been easy to have become a hardened criminal after leaving prison?
Well I am definitely more hardened now than I have ever been, and sure when I came home I did have a lot of offers to get back into crime, because I kept my mouth shut inside. And that’s rare. But I’m not about the money anymore. Money can’t be important to you if you want to stay out. You can’t get a career. Yes, you can get a job, but you can’t get a career. So people go back to crime. It’s a vicious cycle. But ever since I walked out of solitary I have never wavered from where it is I wanted to go.
What was it about solitary that put you on the right track?
While I was in the hole I started asking myself, ‘how did I get here?’, ‘who put me here?’, ‘whose fault is it?’. And I came to accept it was my fault, nobody else’s. I created the scenario and if I could hold myself accountable for that, I could change the direction I was going. My focus stopped being about me, and became about my kids, and that’s when the transformation happened.
You got an extra year in prison for involving the unwitting extras. Did they not suspect anything at all on the day?
Not a thing but they were very annoying. When they got there, I was already pretending to be working. So here’s a bunch of guys, dressed like me, waiting for a supervisor that hasn’t showed up, and they want to know what’s happening. And they naturally assume I must know what’s going on because I’m working away. So these two guys start following me everywhere, actually running after me. I had to go around a corner real quick and ditch the disguise. And this is before the money has even turned up! By the time it shows up, I’m up in these bushes, behind a grocery store, putting my outfit back on. It was crazy.
What made you choose an armoured vehicle?
I was coaching a junior football team in the town, about 40 minutes from where I lived. It was one of those days where I went to get something to eat. I was sitting there and I watched the Brinks truck pull into the bank and that was it, the lightbulb moment! The seed had been planted.
How long did you stake the place out before the big day?
I watched it every Tuesday for a month and a half and there was a ton of planning and logistics. When do they bring the money? Do they have cameras? How many people are in the vehicle? Which ones carry guns? Then it simply becomes a series of mini problems that make up the giant problem to solve.
Not many people would consider attacking an armoured vehicle with pepper spray.
The big problem for me was getting the guard to let go of the bags. A gun wouldn’t have been sufficient because firstly I’m not a gun guy, I don’t want to shoot anybody, but secondly I pull a gun, he pulls his, and although his hands come off the bag it’s an immediate stalemate. So it became a question of how to get his hands off the bags, plus make sure he doesn’t pursue me and ideally, not even see me. And that’s where pepper spray became a win-win situation. It’s non lethal and the perfect way to get his hands off and up onto his eyes, because no matter what, no matter how hard people try, hit them with pepper spray and they are going to touch their eyes.
There’s still the big risk he decides to shoot you though, surely?
Well yes, that’s true, but if there’s one thing I learned from football, it’s the element of surprise. As a wide receiver I always knew where I was going and what I was doing, which gave me a huge advantage over the defensive backs. That was my thing on the day, I had the advantage because I knew where I was going. Granted he had a gun and I did not, but that still doesn’t take away how valuable that element of surprise can be.
How heavy is $400k in cash?
The $180k in $100 dollar bills, that was no problem, I could run with that like a football all day. But the rest, $220k in $20 dollar bills? That was a problem. That was a lot of weight, but the adrenaline helped.
Did you know how much was going to be in the bags?
No, I had an estimate based on several factors, the main one being there was a giant state carnival in town that was coming to a close. I assumed there would be more than double the normal takings; I was expecting about $330k, so I was close.
Was that the biggest surprise of the robbery?
Actually the biggest surprise with the entire thing was just how wary those guys were; a lot of them are ex-military and you can’t get close to them. That was why I disguised myself as a landscaper for the stake outs, I was there all the time so he could become comfortable with me and that was what made me invisible to him later on. The more time I was there prior to the robbery, the more comfortable he would be on the day.
You were a promising university football player. How do you go from playing ball to staking out armoured vehicles?
Well it isn’t the story of a good footballer who has never committed a crime, who thinks, ‘Ah screw it, I’m going to go out and commit a robbery’. It wasn’t like that at all. It was definitely a gradual thing, and just like anything it started small. I was a fast wide receiver, and I went to the University of Idaho, the same place my dad had played in the ‘70s and things were going great.
Then I tore a ligament in my knee, and that was pretty devastating. For a wide receiver, speed is everything, and the injury took away the wheels. It was a long road back and of course they prescribed me Vicodin for the pain. My entire identity was wrapped up round sport, and when I was injured it was like my self-esteem went down the drain. The pills made me feel good. It was a perfect storm for the addiction to stick.
Did you drop out straight away?
For the first two weeks it was no big deal that I wasn’t turning up for practice, but after that all injured players are supposed to be on the stationary bikes and doing something with the team. I just quit showing up and sat at my apartment playing video games thinking my scholarship would never be taken away, which of course it was.
I transferred to Washington State University but I was never able to get it together. The worst part was that I blew my second shot. I had recovered from the knee injury, and was playing basketball one day when the football coach approached me. He had recruited me two years before, and he invited me to join the team. That was the second shot. That was my second chance to play for an even bigger program. I had that opportunity. I was supposed to show up on a Monday, and it just so happened that I ran out of pills the day before, so I was going through withdrawals and just blew it off. Never showed up, never talked to him again. That’s how my career ended.
How many pills were you taking at your very peak of addiction?
When I was injured it was one tablet every four hours, but not to exceed five a day. At my worst, a year and half later, I was taking the equivalent of 80 a day. But I didn’t turn to crime straight away, I started by injuring myself first…
Yes, and this was the real feel of the deal, because it was right around the time I still had the chance to play football. I had been to doctors, trying to get pills with made-up stories and had just been cut off, so this was my next play. I took off my shoe, and I went to the coffee table and began kicking it repeatedly over and over again on the same spot. That's the mindset. When I left the apartment I was hobbling but I was happy. Because I knew that I could now go and show an actual injury the doctor can see. And I did get pills.
Did the money from the robbery go straight onto pills?
No, by that time the money was funding my lifestyle. I became very materialistic. I had never given a shit about fancy cars, or looking cool, or needing attention, but now I needed validation from other people constantly because I was so miserable. So I started to go out and party, I wanted people to like me, I just became a real douche bag. That's the best way to describe it.
The homeless man reported you to the feds, but it was a friend-turned-informer that ultimately brought you down. Was that a shock?
It was a huge surprise! I was so shocked, I just never saw it coming. After the robbery, everything went to plan, the money moved exactly as it was supposed to, funnelled and cleaned through two small businesses in the area. But the person who laundered the money became an informant and that was the nail in the coffin. You know the only person who stayed quiet, and had no reason to stay quiet, was my wife. She said to the police, ‘Do you think I’m going to assist you put the father of my kids away? He needs help, not jail.'
You served almost six years, and emerged clean and sober. What were those first weeks of freedom like?
Exhausting. The social anxiety was overwhelming. I went to the store and there were fifty choices of shampoo. I didn’t want that, it made my life complicated. But there was also a lot of beautiful stuff people take for granted; I hadn’t seen wood on trees for a long time. There is no better way to live than when you get a second chance to appreciate everything.
And you’ve become a bestselling children’s author
I started drawing pictures in solitary and that turned into books. My main focus back then was my kids, and they were so young I just wanted them to have something they could look at later on in life and know that their dad loved them. Then my book The Boy Who Never Gave Up was picked for a school reading program, which led to two best sellers, and that’s what dramatically changed our lives. After several years of being severely broke, I was able to buy a home again.
Finally, with everything you’ve learnt, what’s the key to a successful and happy life?
If you treat other people the way you want to be treated, if you put them first, and do good things for them, it all comes back. That has been the key to my happiness, I feel better when I’m focused on other people other than myself.
If you’d like to see some of Anthony’s children’s books please visit: amazon.com/author/anthonycurcio