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Episode 70: El plan (The Plan)

By Duolingo on Thu 12 Nov 2020

The mysterious mastermind assembles a band of thieves to rob a bank without firing any shots. For a year, the gang thinks through every single detail. But can they really trust one another to pull off such an elaborate scheme?

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Transcript

Martina: Journalists María Ripetta and Rodolfo Palacios had been following the Río Bank saga closely. Millions of dollars worth of valuables were still missing, and despite the recent arrests of five thieves…nobody knew how they pulled it off. When María and Rodolfo found out that Alberto de la Torre was in custody, they immediately asked for an interview. From prison, he said…yes.

María: Fuimos juntos; Alberto nos invitó a conocer su celda. Todo lo hicimos con el permiso de las autoridades. Y así… entramos en la profundidad de la prisión.

Martina: The prison security system was intimidating. De la Torre's cell was at the end of a labyrinth of corridors and sliding gates.

María: Yo era la única mujer y los presos me gritaban cosas. Cuando vi a Alberto de la Torre en su celda, se hizo un silencio profundo y él me dijo que nadie me iba a hacer nada si estaba con él.

Martina: María didn't doubt that De la Torre had the influence he claimed to have. He was clearly at ease walking the halls of the prison. Rodolfo Palacios knew this would be a difficult interview.

Rodolfo: Al principio, De la Torre nos dijo que él no estaba implicado en el robo. Nos dijo que seguramente los ladrones estaban en el Caribe disfrutando de la vida y tomándose un martini.

Martina: But Rodolfo didn't believe De la Torre — not for a second. The way the other prisoners were treating him — everything about how he carried himself — it all suggested that he had been involved.

Rodolfo: Cuando un ladrón cometía un delito del que se sentía orgulloso, se le veía claramente en los ojos. Vi su cara cuando otro prisionero le pidió un autógrafo y supe que él era uno de la banda.

Martina: Rodolfo quickly established a good rapport with De la Torre and started to visit him frequently.

Rodolfo: Tras muchas visitas y conversaciones, De la Torre finalmente lo admitió… Sí, él era uno de los ladrones.

Martina: One day, during a visit, De la Torre told Rodolfo that he wanted to introduce him to someone. They walked down a dark corridor, then entered what looked to be a class of…martial arts, or artes marciales.

Rodolfo: Allí vi a un hombre dando clases de artes marciales. Lo reconocí inmediatamente, era Fernando Araujo. La policía ya había anunciado su arresto, pero para nosotros era un misterio.

Martina: All that Rodolfo knew of Araujo was that he was another alleged member of the Río Bank robbers.

Rodolfo: Cuando lo vi, su mirada penetrante me sorprendió. Usaba un Rolex, algo muy raro en la cárcel. Los otros prisioneros lo llamaban "sensei". Nos sentamos en una mesita en el patio y yo le pregunté quién era el líder de la banda.

Martina: Araujo was silent for a few seconds. Then, with a gleam in his eye, he told Rodolfo that he was in contact with Tom Cruise's production company. He claimed they were interested in making a movie about the heist. The pride in his voice was…unmistakable.

Rodolfo: En ese preciso momento supe que el verdadero cerebro detrás del robo más increíble de la historia argentina estaba allí… delante de mí.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to El gran robo argentino — The Great Argentine Heist, a special serialized season of the Duolingo Spanish Podcast. I'm Martina Castro.

Today we pick up the story after the arrest of the bank robbers. But most of the loot worth 20 million is still missing…and police are still desperate to learn how the robbers pulled off a crime of this scale. In today's episode, we learn how it all came together. As always, you can follow along with full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Now, Episode 4: The Plan, El plan.

Martina: Rodolfo Palacios wasn't the only one intrigued by Fernando Araujo. Once the police had five men in custody, Officer M. became convinced that Fernando Araujo was the mastermind behind the whole plan. He was eccentric; he didn't remotely fit the profile of a bank robber. But to Officer M., he seemed smart — brilliant even. Officer M. didn't think anyone else in the group was capable of orchestrating such a complex plan.

Officer M.: Araujo tenía 36 años y venía de una familia con mucho dinero. Escuchaba música clásica, jugaba ajedrez y se interesaba en el crecimiento espiritual. Era un tipo muy especial, inteligente y capaz. Era profesor de artes marciales y muy buen pintor. Sus amigos lo describían como un gran amigo. Araujo era un bohemio que había decidido convertirse en delincuente.

Martina: During the investigation, Officer M. would come to learn that Araujo's reasons for robbing the bank's safe-deposit boxes, or cajas de seguridad, was much more mundane than the speculations being offered by the press. In 2004, Araujo was out of work and in desperate need of cash. But he was after something bigger than just money to pay the bills. And that, according to Officer M., is how everything began.

Officer M.: Robar las cajas de seguridad era mucho más interesante. No es necesario declarar el contenido de las cajas de seguridad y nadie sabe lo que hay dentro. Su argumento era muy lógico: en las cajas de seguridad seguramente había un botín más grande que en las cajas de atención al público.

Martina: As Officer M. investigated, he concluded that Araujo must have studied previous high-profile robberies for inspiration. Just like Rodolfo Palacios had discovered in his reporting, Officer M. was convinced that Araujo had been inspired by a 1976 heist in France. In that robbery, a criminal gang broke into a bank vault via underground tunnels and left a message on the walls saying, "Without weapons, hatred or violence." It was a message with obvious echoes of the one left inside the Río Bank.

Officer M.: Pensó mucho en qué banco robar. Finalmente, se decidió por el Banco Río que quedaba en una esquina del barrio donde vivió toda su vida. Ahí los clientes eran personas con mucho dinero y eso lo hacía sentirse menos culpable.

Martina: Araujo came up with a bold and complicated plan: to stage a bank robbery gone awry. His idea was this: with police focused on trying to free the hostages, a group of robbers could quickly empty the bank's safe deposit boxes in the basement.

Officer M.: Para escapar, iban a usar un túnel que unía el interior del banco con una alcantarilla que pasaba por debajo del edificio.

Martina: To make the tunnel to the alcantarilla, or sewer, Araujo knew he needed to find a sewer that ran under the bank and then dig upward, toward the basement. The whole undertaking was extremely risky…so Araujo needed a team he could trust.

Officer M.: Eligió a sus cómplices con mucho cuidado, cada uno de ellos con una habilidad distinta. Había un ladrón experimentado, un negociador, un diseñador industrial y un chofer.

Martina: Through a mutual acquaintance, Araujo was put in touch with Alberto de la Torre. At first, De la Torre wanted nothing to do with this eccentric bohemian he didn't know much about. Here's De la Torre:

Alberto de la Torre: La situación económica de Araujo no era la mejor. Me habló de su plan, pero no me interesó. Yo no podía correr ese peligro. Le dije: "Llámame cuando tengas un buen plan". Pero, honestamente, nunca pensé que me iba a llamar.

Martina: But Araujo was serious. And he wanted to prove it. To get all the details right, he needed to take the huge risk of visiting the bank himself. So he posed as a potential client and got a tour, inspecting the layout of the building. Another time, he took photos of the garage. According to Officer M., that was one of Araujo's first mistakes.

Officer M.: El guardia del banco lo vio tomando fotos y llamó a dos policías de la zona. Los agentes lo llevaron al baño del banco y lo revisaron. Pero Araujo sacó el chip de la cámara antes de tiempo y les dijo que no estaba tomando fotos. Los policías le creyeron, pero de todas maneras dejaron registro del evento. Teníamos una imagen de la cámara y la comparamos cuando lo detuvimos.

Martina: Araujo had already had one close call… But he still needed to get access to the room with the safe-deposit boxes. So he went back to the bank a third time, and told a representative he wanted to rent one. Pretending to be lost, he walked into a supply closet through a half-open door. He decided that could be a good point for the tunnel to end, hidden from security cameras. After that reconnaissance mission, he went back to Alberto de la Torre.

Alberto de la Torre: Yo fui a su departamento, un pequeño atelier bastante desorganizado. Él tenía un pizarrón y empezó a explicarme su idea, sus visitas al banco y el conocimiento que tenía de las alcantarillas que pasaban debajo del edificio. Entonces, comencé a pensar que Araujo sabía lo que decía, y que este plan tenía mucho potencial.

Martina: Growing up in the same neighborhood as the bank, Araujo had actually seen the sewers being built. He assumed the city government would have all the maps. So he posed as a professor of urban planning and requested the drainage plans at City Hall. With those, he found that the best entry point to the sewers was at the mouth of a river nearby.

Alberto de la Torre: Araujo nos decía que era difícil caminar por el sistema subterráneo porque había hongos y algas. Pero no olía tan mal porque por ahí solo pasaban las aguas de lluvia. El lugar era muy oscuro y había que caminar en contracorriente para llegar al río. A ciertas horas del día, el agua subía y le llegaba hasta el cinturón del pantalón.

Martina: After hours of walking the sewers, Araujo figured it would take 30 minutes to get from the river to the basement of the bank. He took measurements and finally came up with the exact place where they needed to dig the tunnel in order to reach the bank's supply closet. De la Torre was impressed.

Alberto de la Torre: Araujo me dijo que íbamos a necesitar un túnel de 15 metros. Esa parte del plan estaba clara, pero necesitábamos dinero para comprar herramientas y eso nos iba a llevar tiempo. Él dijo que podía vender su camioneta y conseguir el dinero para empezar. Le dije: "Vendé la camioneta y después me llamás. Yo también puedo poner algo de dinero".

Martina: Two days later, Araujo told De la Torre that he had sold his van.

Alberto de la Torre: Ahí, en ese momento, finalmente le creí. Era un plan serio. Y se confirmó la idea del robo al banco. Mi misión era la siguiente: ser el primero en entrar, declarar el robo y tener a los rehenes bajo control.

Martina: Picture this for a minute: Fernando Araujo, an unknown, eccentric bohemian, had finally convinced one of the most notorious criminals in Buenos Aires to rob a bank with him. He had posed as a bank customer and a professor. He had gotten his hands on maps and taken measurements. He had spent hours walking the waste-filled sewers of one of Argentina's richest neighborhoods. And he was just getting started.

Alberto de la Torre: Esta era una nueva aventura para mí. La cantidad de dinero que podíamos robar era muy interesante.

Martina: In addition to the money, De la Torre had a personal reason for agreeing to the heist.

Alberto de la Torre: Yo había cometido muchísimos robos en mi vida. Había estado en las bandas más importantes, pero nunca había escuchado un plan como este. Y la verdad, estaba loco por participar en él. Era el plan perfecto. Yo quería cometer el robo más grande del mundo para finalizar mi carrera de toda la vida.

Martina: Getting Alberto de la Torre was a huge win for Fernando Araujo. He was now ready to start recruiting the rest of his gang. He knew they would need a talented engineer who could be in charge of the tunnels and open the safe-deposit boxes. Araujo found the right person in Sebastián García Bolster. Here's Officer M.:

Officer M.: Ellos vivían en el mismo barrio, pero eran muy diferentes. García Bolster era un hombre de familia. Tenía un taller mecánico donde arreglaba motos y autos. Al principio no quería participar, pero Araujo lo convenció. Me imagino que la tentación de tanto dinero fue muy grande. Su rol era diseñar los planos para construir el túnel y lo necesario para abrir las cajas de seguridad.

Martina: Next on Araujo's list was finding a thief who could stay cool under pressure. And he had someone perfect in mind: Mario Vitette, an infamous Uruguayan burglar. Vitette was called the Spider-Man of Buenos Aires because he scaled tall buildings to rob apartments. He would play the role of negotiator…the man in the gray suit.

Officer M.: Vitette incluso tomó clases de actuación para preparar su papel de negociador. También estudió el manual de la policía para tratar con delincuentes en este tipo de robos. Por último, Vitette compró el traje gris que usó durante el robo.

Martina: Finally, the group needed someone who could steal two vehicles to use the day of the robbery: a car to get there and a van to escape. De la Torre knew the perfect man: Julián Zalloechevarría, an old friend with a long history of auto theft, who had recently been shot, or disparado, during a robbery. Again, Officer M.:

Officer M.: Julián Zalloechevarría era un ladrón de verdad. Antes del robo, le habían disparado en una pierna y no podía caminar bien. Por esta razón, la banda decidió que él iba a ser chofer.

Martina: Araujo's idea was this: On the day of the heist, Zalloechevarría would park the van on top of a manhole near a sidewalk, or acera. Then, after escaping the bank, the robbers would climb out of the sewer and into the vehicle through a hole cut in the floor of the van.

Officer M.: Eligieron una alcantarilla cerca de la acera y no en medio de la calle. De esta manera, Zalloechevarría simplemente podía estacionarse ahí durante mucho tiempo y sin llamar la atención.

Martina: Finally, after five months, Araujo had assembled his team. The most time-consuming part of the plan was digging the tunnel. Disguised as employees of a utility company, with fake permits, they worked on it for six months, digging a 15-meter tunnel that ran from the sewer up to the bank's basement. At first, they used pickaxes, but eventually, they brought in a jackhammer, to speed up their progress.

Alberto de la Torre: Pasábamos largos días trabajando. Todos participábamos por igual. Teníamos muchos problemas, pero siempre encontrábamos una solución. Una vez hubo una filtración, otra vez, pensamos que el túnel iba a colapsar.

Martina: While they were digging the tunnel, the group debated whether they should carry weapons on the day of the robbery. According to Alberto de la Torre, Araujo insisted on using fakes. He said he was against violence, and also argued that if they were arrested, they would get much lighter sentences if they didn't use real weapons.

Alberto de la Torre: Al principio yo no estaba de acuerdo porque podía ser un problema para nosotros si había alguien armado dentro del banco, un policía vestido de civil, por ejemplo. Otro peligro era si el guardia del banco tenía una pistola y nosotros no teníamos con qué defendernos. Pero bueno, para controlar eso, finalmente decidimos fabricar granadas falsas. ¡Nos quedaron muy bien! Si estábamos en peligro, podíamos decirle a la policía que íbamos a detonarlas.

Martina: Once they agreed on using replicas, Araujo tracked down fakes of a Colt revolver, a 9mm pistol, and a sawed-off shotgun. De la Torre was impressed by how real everything looked.

Alberto de la Torre: Yo incluso llevé un arma de juguete de mi hijo menor, el único hijo que tuve con Alicia Di Tullio. ¡El arma parecía tan real! Un día, mi hijo estaba jugando con el arma y una vecina lo vio y se asustó porque pensó que era una pistola de verdad.

Martina: When the tunnel was almost finished, the group decided they would use inflatable boats to navigate the storm drains until they reached the dam, or dique. Then they'd come out through the manhole that Zalloechevarría was parked on top of.

Alberto de la Torre: Tuvimos que construir un dique para tener más agua y profundidad y así poder navegar con los botes inflables dentro del sistema subterráneo. El dique era de 1.70 m de alto. Tenía que soportar 35 000 litros de la resistencia del agua. De esta manera, íbamos a poder avanzar 14 cuadras hasta llegar a la salida de la alcantarilla.

Martina: Another part of the plan was figuring out how to break into the safe-deposit boxes. Araujo set out for a neighboring branch of the Río Bank, where he asked to rent a box. He made a note of the brand, then bought a few directly from the manufacturer.

Alberto de la Torre: Con esa información pudimos estudiar la caja fuerte de la marca Rench.

Martina: Whatever they built to break into the boxes had to be fast, powerful, and quiet so that no one inside the bank would suspect what they were up to. The engineer's solution was to craft a jackhammer with enough strength to punch through the locks. He built it in a way that ensured it could be carried in pieces, assembled inside the bank, and taken apart quickly. According to De la Torre, they called it the "power cannon." It looked like a floor polisher, or lustradora de piso.

Alberto de la Torre: Lo llamamos “cañón power”. Era realmente una maravilla, pesaba unos 10 kilos, pero tenía ruedas. Cuando estaba cubierto con una tela, parecía una lustradora de piso de un metro de alto.

Martina: The plan was coming together. The last thing left to do was to cut a hole in the floor of the getaway van that Zalloechevarría had already stolen.

Alberto de la Torre: Yo dije que lo podíamos hacer en mi casa.

Martina: More than one year after they were recruited, the thieves all got together at De la Torre's house. His wife, Alicia Di Tullio, brought mate around for everyone. She was very curious about what they were doing, and the group suspected that De la Torre had told her everything. It should have been a massive red flag. But they had made their plan, and there was no turning back.

Alberto de la Torre: Yo no tenía por qué dudar de ella. Era mi mujer y tenía toda mi confianza. Ella había estado a mi lado en otros robos y nunca habíamos tenido ningún problema. Era parte de nuestra relación.

Martina: The thieves finally settled on the day the robbery would take place: Friday, January 13th, 2006. They had thought through every detail, played out every scenario over and over. They had a getaway vehicle and a machine to open the safe-deposit boxes. They knew the movements of local patrol units inside and out. They had dug a tunnel leading directly to the basement of the bank. What could possibly go wrong?

Alberto de la Torre: Esa mañana, Alicia me acompañó hasta la esquina del banco. Yo le mostré dónde tenía que dejar el auto para volver por la noche a mi casa, a una cuadra de la salida del túnel. Yo tenía una copia de las llaves. Nos despedimos como siempre. Yo estaba muy ansioso y sentía mucha adrenalina. Ya no había vuelta atrás.

Martina: To recap: Fernando Araujo has come up with a perfect plan. He's assembled the perfect team, thought through every single detail. And they plan to pull it all off without firing a single shot. Now the only thing left to do is to walk inside the bank and take every single person in there hostage…

Alberto de la Torre: Eran más de veinte rehenes. Había parejas que habían ido a hacer cosas en el banco, señoras mayores de más de 70 años. Mi trabajo era calmarlos y evitar todo tipo de locura.

Martina: But did everything really go according to plan? And was this really the nonviolent crime the media made it out to be? That's the next week on El gran robo argentino — The Great Argentine Heist.

The Duolingo Spanish Podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. You can find all of the episodes and transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Credits

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producers: Tali Goldman & Alejandro Marinelli
Editor: Catalina May
Managing Editor: David Alandete
Executive Editor: Martina Castro
Mixing: Andrés Fechtenholtz & Martín Pérez Roa
Mastering Engineers: Martín Cruz & Antonio Romero
Sound Designer: Antonio Romero
Original Music: Antonio Romero
Production Managers: Mariano Pagella & Román Frontini