The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office is trying to determine whether the robbery of $4.8 million in gold bars from a tractor-trailer truck on Interstate 95 Saturday was an inside job.
The two guards who were reportedly bound and left in the woods while the robbery took place are not considered suspects, said Sheriff Calvin L. Woodard Jr., but investigators are still trying to determine exactly what happened.
“Right now, they’re still considered victims,” Woodard said when asked about the guards at a press conference Wednesday. “But during this investigation we’re investigating every angle.”
Woodard was asked repeatedly about whether he believed the guards were in on the robbery. That possibility was raised in a search warrant made public earlier Wednesday.
“There is suspicion of a robbery at this time that this could be an inside job due to the circumstances of the robbery,” the search warrant states. “The fact that the truck was robbed immediately upon it pulling over at an unannounced stop is suspicious in and of itself.
“It is also suspicious because there are no markings on the side of the truck that would indicate the type of cargo contained therein.”
Woodard said when deputies wrote the search warrant, they had not fully interviewed the two guards because the men spoke only broken English. The situation seemed suspicious at the time, he said, but he would not characterize it one way or another on Wednesday.
The two guards told investigators that they were overcome by a strong odor of gasoline in the cab of the truck Sunday evening and pulled off to the side of northbound I-95, two miles south of the N.C. 42 exit, Woodard said. The truck had refueled in Dillon, S.C., earlier in the afternoon.
After an inspection of the truck, however, deputies determined it was working properly, and there was no smell of gasoline at the time it was inspected.
The guards said three gunmen approached, ordered them to get down on the ground and tied their wrists with zip ties and duct tape, according to the sheriff’s office. The gunmen then marched them into a nearby stand of woods, returned to the truck, broke a lock on the doors and transferred several small barrels filled with about 275 pounds of gold into a white minivan and drove off.
The gold bars weighed about 25 pounds each, Woodard said. He said the minivan was either a Ford or a Nissan.
Woodard said it appears the three men knew what was in the truck when they chose to rob it. He released rough descriptions of two of the three suspected gunmen.
He described one as a heavyset Hispanic man, about 40 years old, with a Cuban accent who wore a red traffic vest. Woodard said the man yelled “policia” when the guards got out of the truck. The second suspect was a dark-skinned Hispanic man with a white goatee who wore a hoodie. The third suspect was unloading the gold from the truck, and the guards did not get a good description of him, Woodard said.
The two guards worked for TransValue Inc. in Miami and were transporting silver and gold from Miami to Massachusetts when the robbery took place. The two men had guns, but left them in the truck when they pulled over, Woodard said, which is a violation of company policy.
Woodard did not say exactly how long the robbery took from the time it happened till the time the men left. He said there were no calls from witnesses or drivers on the highway who may have seen the robbery. He said they were robbed on the shoulder of the highway in the view of other drivers, but no one called 911 until after the minivan had left.
No one was hurt.
According to the search warrant, there was about $5 million in silver left on the truck. The cargo belonged to Republic Metals Corp. of Miami, a precious metals refining company.
Police confiscated a phone with a Miami phone number belonging to a man named Luis Mendoza.
The FBI and Wake County Sheriff’s have helped in the investigation. Woodard said the FBI has not determined a federal crime occurred.