crime

Great drain robbery: police bust gang who used sewer system to rob banks

Father-and-son team would break in through tunnels and then lie in wait

Police stand guard over several of the gang of 10 thieves, who were arrested after robbing a bank via the sewer system.
Police stand guard over several of the gang of 10 thieves, who were arrested after robbing a bank via the sewer system.EFE

Carlos Iglesias learned how to rob banks from his dad. And after his father and teacher passed away, in 2008, he rose to the top of a criminal group known as "the sewer gang." In 1999, when he was just 15 years old, Iglesias already knew his way around Madrid's drainage system. But now, at the age of 30, his criminal career has been cut short, after the self-styled "Robin Hood of Vallecas" was caught by the police earlier this summer.

Iglesias, who has no criminal record, has a regular job in a fishmonger. But for the last 15 years he formed part of the sewer gang, whose modus operandi consisted of breaking into banks by digging underground tunnels right into the middle of the branches.

The 10 members of the gang who were arrested on July 26 - four of whom have since been released - are accused of seven robberies using violence and intimidation since October 2010. The penultimate robbery, which took place on June 10 this year, was foiled by the concierge of a nearby building in Alcalá street, in Madrid. "I heard something very strange, a lot of noise," said the concierge, who had been living for three years next to a branch of Banco Santander, but had never heard anything like it. He was the first person to detect the stealthy clan since they began operating back in the late 1990s.

The gang managed to get away, however, taking 25,000 euros in cash with them. But on their second attempt at a robbery this summer, in the capital's Usera neighborhood, officers caught up with them as they made their escape, and managed to arrest four of the robbers inside the sewers, and another four as they came out on to the street. The manhole cover where they emerged was hidden from view by a parked truck, which was from the fishmonger where the boss worked. The two remaining members of the gang were detained later on.

Their last robbery saw them tie up and gag four employees and 10 customers

On that occasion, the thieves managed to steal 66,317.40 euros, and were found to be carrying two pistols, a revolver, a sledgehammer, a crowbar and a number of flashlights.

Jesús Iglesias Carrascosas, the original leader of the gang, knew the techniques and the layout of subterranean Madrid to perfection. "He showed [his son] how to stage his raids through the sewers, and he learned the art of attacking banks from underground," explains Police Inspector Dionisio Martín. Iglesias, Martín explained, had something of an egocentric character, shouting to bank employees that he was "the leader of this gang," or describing himself as the "Robin Hood of Vallecas," in reference to a Madrid neighborhood. In spite of this name, the police found no evidence that the group had ever shared its ill-gotten gains with the poor.

Thanks to the interrupted mission in June, the National Police were able to clarify the connections between that robbery and others that had taken place since October 2010 in a number of banks in Madrid. Surveillance as part of the investigation honed in on two members of the group, who eventually led the police to the rest (seven Spanish men and three Spanish women). They also led the police to the site of their next job, planned for July 26: a branch of Bankia in Marcelo Usera street. For several months, members of the gang accessed the sewers in nearby Mirasierra street in order to prepare the attack. There was a third robbery planned as well, in the same neighborhood.

"They knew that if there were rats down there, there was life," explains Dionisio Martín. "They could tell which were the areas underground where they couldn't breathe."

Jesús Iglesias had trained the rest of the gang along with another veteran thief, who is now aged 71 and is still yet to be located by police.

Modus operandi

The gang would use the city's sewers to gain access to the bank's basements during the night, when they were shut. They would hide out until the arrival of the staff, whom they would then force to empty out the safes without raising any suspicions - and avoiding any alarms being set off.

After the raid, they would disappear once more through the sewers. Their last robbery saw them tie up and gag four employees and 10 customers in a branch of Bankia.

All of their targets in the last three years were major banks, such as BBVA, Santander, Bankia and La Caixa. The amounts they took with them ranged from 25,000 to 275,000 euros, according to sources close to the investigation.

Their first and second robberies took place within a year of each other, but bit by bit they left a shorter amount of time between raids. The last two were separated by just six weeks.

The underground robberies took place in a number of different neighborhoods in the capital, all of which were carefully studied by the gang. After nearly 15 years of activity, they knew every nook and cranny of the sewer system, and were able to pinpoint each branch.

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