Perfect crime committed by ‘polite’ armed robbers, but heist had lasting impact

They were polite, in a way, the men who robbed Michael West.

Though armed with guns, they carefully removed his wristwatch before they handcuffed him. All the while, they assured him they weren’t going to hurt him.

Police examine the abandoned Armaguard van after the 1994 armed robbery in Richmond.Credit:John Woudstra

“We’re only here for the money, nothing more,” Mr West’s son said his father was told.

“We are not that sort of people.”

The 1994 Richmond road gang heist, as it became known, had been considered the perfect crime – unsolved for almost three decades, committed by a gang of professionals who police considered one of the last great armed robbery crews.

Only one person has been found guilty of the crime. Pasquale “Percy” Lanciana, a former kickboxing champion, was convicted by a jury in May.

The County Court on Monday heard more detail about the impact of the notorious heist.

Pasquale Lanciana at the time of his arrest in 2016.Credit:Jason South

Disguised as road workers, the gang of five stopped the Armaguard truck that security guards Michael West, Robert Brewer and John Johnston were driving and stole $2.32 million that had come from the Reserve Bank.

The robbery took mere minutes, but the crime had a lasting effect on the three guards, all of whom are now dead.

In a statement read to court on Monday, Craig West, who was eight at the time of the robbery, said his father changed from a fun-loving and compassionate man to one who was paranoid and afraid.

Craig West and his sister, then six, would be given 10 minutes to run to the shops and back – so worried was their father that someone was watching and waiting.

Lanciana (right) outside court in May this year.Credit:Justin McManus

“He would find different ways to get to and from home. Sometimes going completely different ways in case someone was following him,” Craig West said.

He would wake to his father’s night terrors and watch as Mr West hid behind furniture, yelling: “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot.”

He said his father suffered beatings at work from colleagues who demanded to know where the money was, thinking the heist was an inside job.

“In some ways, I am relieved my dad has passed on from these horrible moments.”

Prosecutor Jim Shaw told the court the jury found Lanciana guilty of the armed robbery on the basis he either organised it, carried it out, or both.

“Whichever way you look at it, Mr Lanciana’s role was central and crucial and significant in the offending,” Mr Shaw said.

Lanciana, 63, appeared in court over video link from custody.

His barrister, Nola Karapanagiotidis, argued there were “limited facts” on which to sentence Lanciana and his true role in the offending wasn’t known.

Just because it was a grave example of an armed robbery, it would be dangerous to conclude Lanciana’s role was central, crucial and significant, the defence lawyer said.

The jury also found Lanciana guilty of laundering money from the heist, using former solicitor John Anile to funnel $400,000 in cash to the purchase of land in Williamstown.

Prosecutor Mr Shaw said the jury could only have found Lanciana guilty if they accepted that the money, or some of it, came from the heist, and someone who wasn’t heavily involved wasn’t going to be receiving such large amounts of cash.

Ms Karapanagiotidis said delays in the case were a key mitigating factor in sentencing and her client’s prospects for rehabilitation were excellent, tendering “powerful” character references from people her client had assisted through kickboxing and martial arts.

Judge Michael O’Connell will sentence Lanciana at a date yet to be fixed.

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