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Episode 72: El juicio (The Trial)

By Duolingo on Thu 03 Dec 2020

The robbers are forced to face the consequences of their crime, and find themselves up against potentially lengthy prison sentences. While the evidence against them is damning, they hope to make the case for leniency by arguing that they were unarmed. But the prosecutors intend to show they are not the non-violent folk heroes the media have made them out to be.

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Martina: Monday, February 15th, 2010. A swarm of cameramen, photographers, and reporters were crowding the entrance to the San Isidro courthouse in Buenos Aires. Everyone was trying to catch a glimpse of the famous robbers who, four years earlier, had pulled off the shocking Río bank heist. It was the first day in court for Alberto de la Torre and three of his partners in crime.

Alberto de la Torre: Habían pasado cuatro años desde el robo. Yo estaba muy preocupado. Sabía que era una situación muy difícil para mí porque una de las principales testigos era mi ex, Alicia Di Tullio. Ella les había dado mucha información a los policías.

Martina: Three judges were presiding over the trial. At ten o'clock, they gaveled in the proceedings. Bailiffs escorted three of the accused into the courtroom: Fernando Araujo, the mastermind; Sebastián García Bolster, the engineer; and Julián Zalloechevarría, the driver. They were all handcuffed, but looked very calm. Then, there was a tense silence. Someone called for Alberto de la Torre, but it seemed that he wasn't in the building.

Alberto de la Torre: Yo tenía que estar ahí con los demás en ese momento, pero no fue así.

Martina: The judges were worried that De la Torre had somehow escaped. Anything seemed possible in this crazy heist. So they had the clerk call the police.

Alberto de la Torre: El problema era que el auto que me iba a llevar al tribunal fue a buscarme tarde y había mucho tráfico. Llegué una hora tarde.

Martina: When De la Torre finally arrived, an hour late, he tried to appear calm. He even cracked a smile as he sat down. But his mind was racing.

Alberto de la Torre: Había mucha gente. Cuatro años después de nuestro famoso robo, mis compañeros y yo estábamos ahí para descubrir cuál iba a ser nuestra sentencia. Yo estaba seguro de que iba a ir a prisión, pero estaba preparado. Mi objetivo era poder reducir la sentencia al máximo y tenía una estrategia muy precisa para hacerlo…

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

Today, the robbers are forced to face the consequences of their crime, and find themselves up against lengthy prison sentences. While the evidence against them is damning…the robbers hope to make the case for leniency. But are the thieves really the non-violent folk heroes the media have made them out to be? For the first time, you'll hear testimony the hostages gave during the trial, reenacted for us from court transcripts. As always, you can follow along with full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

And now, our final episode: The Trial, El juicio.

Martina: Among the many reporters covering the first day of the trial, María Ripetta had a front-row seat. She had written some of the juiciest stories about the heist, with scoops like the one about the note the thieves left inside the bank. María had done most of her reporting on the case for a newspaper called Perfil…but had since moved on to another job at a paper called Crónica. She convinced her editor there to send her to the trial.

María Ripetta: Yo viví el robo como periodista y quería saber cómo iba a acabar este caso. En el tribunal estaba muy emocionada y fascinada. Yo seguí trabajando en el caso durante los cuatro años que habían pasado desde aquel 13 de enero del 2006.

Martina: Sitting in the courtroom, María watched the robbers closely, taking copious notes. As is customary in Argentina, the case was not being heard by a jury, but instead by three judges: one woman and two men. The prosecution, or fiscalía, read the charges, or cargos.

María Ripetta: La fiscalía anunció los cargos y las sentencias máximas de cada uno de los acusados.

Fiscalía: Se solicita la pena de 20 años para Alberto de la Torre, 19 años para Fernando Araujo, 17 Julián Zalloechevarría y 15 para Sebastián García Bolster.

Martina: Sentences between 15 and 20 years for armed robbery and kidnapping. One by one, the defendants' lawyers asserted that their clients were not guilty…and asked the court for a full exoneration.

María Ripetta: Los abogados de los hombres siempre defendieron su inocencia.

Martina: The four men had already been under house arrest for years. They were released from prison a few months after their arrests, to await trial. Sitting together in the courtroom, the men seemed to get along very well. María took notes on their body language and their facial expressions.

María Ripetta: Cuando ellos entraron, se sentaron al lado de sus abogados y les hablaron. Los cuatro tenían una buena relación entre ellos y mantenían una comunicación constante. De hecho, Alberto de la Torre y Araujo habían estado en la misma prisión antes de salir a arresto domiciliario. El grupo solo había tenido un problema…

Martina: The problem was Mario Vitette, the man in the gray suit. He had recently confessed to the robbery, after making a last minute deal with the prosecution. He would get 21 years in prison, but with the possibility of being deported to Uruguay, where he hoped for a reduced sentence.

María Ripetta: El resto del grupo no tenía buenas relaciones con Vitette, pero entre ellos, sí. Me di cuenta de algo curioso, todos llevaban puestos trajes similares.

Martina: It was Alicia Di Tullio who had been largely responsible for bringing down the gang. Right before a bitter separation with De la Torre, she had gone to the police with the whole story of the heist. She was the prosecution's star witness.

Alberto de la Torre: Yo ya no tenía ninguna relación con Alicia. Ella me había traicionado.

Martina: Alberto de la Torre felt betrayed, traicionado. Although Alicia Di Tullio was key, the prosecution's witness list was long. Really long: 600 people, with an average of 10 witnesses, or testigos, per hearing. María Ripetta was prepared to spend some extremely long days in court.

María Ripetta: El primer día del juicio, los abogados del banco y los fiscales hicieron sus declaraciones. Los cuatro acusados se miraban entre ellos y la complicidad era evidente. La testigo más esperada hizo su declaración el cuarto día.

Martina: Alicia Di Tullio, the star witness, knew how to make an entrance. The day of her testimony, she was dressed to the nines, with a long black dress, a white scarf around her shoulders, and tall stilettos. The click-clack of her heels echoed throughout the courtroom as she approached the witness stand.

María Ripetta: Ella tenía el cabello muy rubio, largo y liso. Se había vestido como para ir a una fiesta importante. De algo no había duda: ella fue la protagonista del día.

Martina: The courtroom was arranged so the witnesses were seated directly in front of the judges, while the defendants were off to the side. This way, Di Tullio didn't have to look at her ex, Alberto de la Torre. Di Tullio kept her eyes on the prosecutor and the judges, as she eagerly answered all of their questions.

María Ripetta: Di Tullio entregó cartas que, según ella, su ex escribió en prisión. En esas cartas él hablaba del robo. Ella dio mucha información que para nosotros era desconocida. Por ejemplo, ella dijo que los ladrones habían secado el dinero mojado en el horno. Además, dijo que durante un año su ex llegaba todo sucio a la casa porque estaba trabajando en el túnel.

Martina: The prosecutor showed Di Tullio a photo of each of the thieves. She then described their roles. Araujo, the mastermind…

Di Tullio: Él era el más inteligente. Vivía en San Isidro. Organizó todo el plan.

Martina: García Bolster, the engineer…

Di Tullio: Él conocía el sistema subterráneo y trabajó en el dique.

Martina: Zalloechevarría, the driver…

Di Tullio: Él los esperó afuera en una camioneta.

Martina: Vitette, the man in the gray suit…

Di Tullio: Él negoció con los policías.

Martina: And finally the photo of her ex, Alberto de la Torre…

Di Tullio: Sí, es él, el que tiene el disfraz.

Martina: In addition to Di Tullio, the prosecution called 20 of the 23 hostages to the stand. María noted a similar behavior in all of them.

María Ripetta: Muchos de los testigos parecían tranquilos. Sin embargo, mientras más preguntas hacían los fiscales y abogados, más nerviosos se ponían.

Martina: One of the first hostages to take the stand was Estela Maris Casal, who had been waiting in line at the bank when the robbery began.

Estela Maris Casal: Uno de los ladrones me golpeó el cuello con un objeto duro y yo pensé que era un arma porque después vi un arma. Él dijo: "¡Todos al piso!". Después, uno de los ladrones nos dijo que eso ya no era un asalto, sino una toma de rehenes.

Martina: Another hostage, Ramiro Castañón, had walked his wife to the bank that morning. He testified that he had been hit with the butt of a gun.

Ramiro Antonio Castañón: Era una persona con un disfraz, estaba vestida de blanco, como con ropa de médico. De repente, escuché gritos: "¡Al suelo! ¡Al suelo!". Yo me tiré al piso y me quedé ahí como 40 minutos.

Martina: Martín Buyo was also at the bank when the robbers took out their guns. He remembered being so scared that he wet his pants.

Martín Darío Buyo: Me hice pis encima y les pedí permiso para ir al baño de nuevo. Uno de los ladrones me dijo que estaba actuando como un chico de 15 años y que ya era suficiente.

Martina: For María and many other journalists, hearing the hostages' testimony shed new light on the robbery. Up until then, no one had heard the story from their point of view. Their identities had been concealed while the police and the prosecution were building their case.

María Ripetta: Ningún medio de comunicación los había entrevistado durante los cuatro años que pasaron entre el robo y el juicio. Los investigadores y el banco nunca publicaron sus identidades. Después de escuchar todas las declaraciones, la versión cambió mucho para mí. El mito del robo sin violencia empezaba a desintegrarse.

Martina: A lot of people started wondering if the robbers really were the folk heroes they had been made out to be. The witnesses were painting a new picture…one that sounded, frankly, pretty violent.

María Ripetta: El robo era considerado como un robo "amable". La gente decía que los ladrones habían tratado muy bien a los rehenes, pero eso no era verdad. Ellos decían que había sido una situación muy estresante y violenta. Muchos de ellos quedaron traumatizados psicológicamente después del robo.

Martina: The prosecution also called people to the stand whose safe deposit boxes had been emptied. Many of those who testified were middle class — not part of the wealthy upper classes the thieves had claimed they were targeting, in their note. These witnesses testified that they had lost their life savings.

María Ripetta: Yo escuché la declaración de un testigo que dijo que el dinero en su caja de seguridad era para pagar un tratamiento contra el cáncer. Para muchos, ese dinero representaba los ahorros de toda una vida. Fue una situación muy traumática para los rehenes.

Martina: Hearing all the different testimonies, and the way the hostages talked about the thieves' weapons the day of the robbery… María started to wonder. For years, the story had been repeated in many magazines and TV shows that the thieves' guns were fake. But was it actually true? The hostages certainly believed that the guns were real…

María Ripetta: Comencé a dudar de la palabra de los ladrones… ¿Era posible ejecutar un robo tan grande con armas de juguete? Todavía quedaba mucho por descubrir y los rehenes podían ser la clave del misterio.

Martina: During their interrogations, the robbers had maintained that they only used replica weapons during the heist. It was an important distinction. Because if they hadn't used real guns, their lawyers could argue for lighter sentences if they were proven guilty. Armed robbery, after all, requires actual weapons. When Alberto de la Torre testified, he swore that they were not real.

Alberto de la Torre: Es verdad, esto lo decidimos durante la planificación del robo. Nosotros queríamos hacer todo sin violencia y así fue. No hubo un solo disparo durante todo el robo.

Martina: It's true that not a single shot, or disparo, was fired that day. But the hostages were adamant: the robbers had been carrying real weapons, not toys. Again, José Fernández, one of the hostages.

José Antonio Fernández Massa: El ladrón que me atrapó tenía un arma en la mano. Él hizo un movimiento rápido y una munición cayó al piso.

Martina: Toy guns don't have bullets. The prosecution also called Walter Serrano to testify. He was the security guard who had locked himself in the bunker and only exited when the robbers threatened to shoot a hostage.

Walter Orlando Serrano: Yo dije en el juicio que las armas eran de verdad. Ellos siempre dijeron que las armas eran de juguete, pero yo les puedo decir que eran de verdad. Para mí, una persona con sentido común no entra a robar un banco con un arma de juguete.

Martina: Serrano was a police officer moonlighting as a security guard — just as Mario Vitette had suspected on the day of the heist. Serrano even worked as a firearms instructor. He knew a real shotgun, una escopeta, when he saw one…and he recognized the sound of one being loaded. During the trial, one of the judges asked Serrano if he had been able to identify one of the weapons used the day of the robbery.

Walter Orlando Serrano: Yo dije que sí, que no había problema. Esperamos un tiempo y trajeron varias escopetas. Entre ellas había una Browning 2000 y dije: "Es esa". Era un arma especial y muy rápida. Me acuerdo de un material brillante. Esa era la escopeta que tenía la persona con el delantal…

Martina: Un delantal, an apron, that's what Alberto de la Torre had been wearing as his disguise. Serrano claimed to remember the gun so vividly because he was afraid of getting shot.

Walter Orlando Serrano: Yo insistía y decía: "Dejen salir a las mujeres". Cuando estaba hablando con el hombre del traje gris, escuché que alguien gritó: "el vigilante no está en el búnker". Era la voz de la persona con el delantal, que tenía la escopeta. Pensé que me iba a matar porque parecía muy enojado. Con mucho miedo pensé: "Me va a cocinar".

Martina: In Argentina, "me va a cocinar" or he's going to cook me means "he's going to kill me." But to Serrano's surprise, the thieves didn't kill him. Instead, they took his gun, emptied out the bullets and handed it back to him. Then Mario Vitette let him exit the bank, with a message.

Walter Orlando Serrano: Me dijo: "Llama a tus jefes. Quiero a la prensa, quiero a un fiscal, quiero a un juez, quiero todo acá". Estuve un buen tiempo cerca del hombre del traje gris y no era una persona nerviosa, él sabía lo que hacía.

Martina: Serrano's testimony sent ripples through the courtroom, despite De la Torre's best effort to deny the account…especially the idea that they had real guns.

Alberto de la Torre: Eso es falso. Nunca tuvimos armas reales. Serrano confundió un juguete con un rifle.

Martina: That wasn't all the evidence though. Jorge Ferreira had been guarding the bank's front door that day. He testified that the man in the gray suit had carried a silver handgun that he shook in Ferreira's direction at one point and said: "Careful, this is not a toy." Here's Ferreira:

Jorge Luis Ferreira: El hombre del traje gris incluso nos preguntó: "¿Les parece un arma de juguete?".

Martina: There was now no doubt, the prosecution had a mountain of evidence. But when it came down to it…it was simply the thieves' word against the hostages. The trial ended up lasting three months. Most of that time, the accused robbers just sat and listened to testimony. But toward the end, Alberto de la Torre finally took the stand. His statement was brief.

Alberto de la Torre: Yo tengo muy poco que decir. Quiero darle las gracias al tribunal porque siempre me trató humanamente. Yo estoy seguro de que se hará justicia.

Martina: When the judges went into deliberation, María Ripetta remembers the defense attorneys asking them to take into account that no one was hurt during the heist.

María Ripetta: Los abogados de la defensa repetían que sus clientes no habían usado armas reales. En consecuencia, pedían una sentencia de libertad asistida o prisión domiciliaria para sus clientes.

Martina: The trial ended on April 28th, 2010…but the judges took more than a week to deliver their verdict. While he waited, under house arrest, Alberto de la Torre grew impatient.

Alberto de la Torre: Nos querían enviar a prisión, pero los argumentos no eran sólidos, eran falsos. Sin embargo, yo esperaba un cambio drástico. Ese era mi deseo.

Martina: On May 5th, the judges announced to a packed courtroom that they had arrived at a verdict. The four defendants sat off to one side with their lawyers as the judges delivered their decision.

Judge: A los cuatro acusados de los cargos de robo con armas de fuego, Alberto de la Torre, Fernando Araujo, Sebastián García Bolster y Julián Zalloechevarría, se les considera… culpables.

Martina: Guilty of armed robbery…the judges did not buy the toy weapons argument. But that wasn't all.

Judge: De los cargos de privación ilegal de la libertad y actos violentos, se les considera… culpables.

Martina: Guilty of kidnapping and acts of violence. On May 21st, the court convened again, to hand down the sentences. María Ripetta was in the courtroom, taking notes.

María Ripetta: A Julián Zalloechevarría, el chofer, le dieron 10 años de prisión. A García Bolster, el Ingeniero, 9 años de prisión, y a Fernando Araujo, el cerebro detrás de todo, 14 años de prisión. A Alberto de la Torre le dieron la sentencia máxima,15 años de prisión.

Martina: Alberto de la Torre was shocked.

Alberto de la Torre: Las sentencias fueron una sorpresa para mí. Yo esperaba justicia porque no teníamos armas y porque no teníamos ninguna intención de ser violentos. Además, durante el robo, no habíamos puesto en peligro la vida de nadie.

Martina: One by one, the thieves were escorted from the courtroom. Their new lives in prison would begin immediately. One person who was definitely elated that day was Officer M. He felt like the judges' ruling had finally closed a very long and exhausting chapter of his life.

Officer M.: Yo aprendí algo muy importante del juicio: ninguna organización criminal puede escaparse si la Justicia y la policía trabajan juntas. Juntos demostramos que hay muy buenos hombres y mujeres que hacen eso posible.

Martina: In July 2012, just two years after the trial, Argentina's Court of Appeals reviewed the case and determined that there was no conclusive evidence that real weapons had been used in the robbery. As a result, the robbers had their sentences cut in half.

Fernando Araujo was released that same year into house arrest, for good behaviour. He went to live at his mother's house. Journalist Rodolfo Palacios, who had interviewed Araujo in prison before the trial, decided to track him down. He was still on the crime beat and had never lost interest in the case.

Rodolfo Palacios: Yo me enteré de que él había salido de prisión. Busqué en la guía telefónica y encontré su teléfono. Llamé a la casa y ¿quién me respondió? El propio Araujo. ¡No lo podía creer! Ya nos conocíamos por las entrevistas que yo le había hecho en prisión. Así que él me invitó a su casa. Cuando me dio su dirección, me pareció increíble. ¡Su mamá vivía a cinco cuadras del Banco Río!

Martina: On his way to see Araujo, Rodolfo passed by the Río Bank and remembered that day in 2006 when he was in the newsroom as news of the robbery broke on TV. It felt surreal that he was now on his way to have a drink with the mastermind of the heist.

Rodolfo Palacios: Araujo en persona me abrió la puerta. Estaba tranquilo, feliz y satisfecho. Me ofreció vino y un poco de comida, y me llevó a su habitación de cuando era pequeño. Yo no podía creer que estaba con el mejor ladrón de bancos de la historia argentina en su habitación, con fotos de él por todos lados. Nunca, pero nunca pensé que iba a vivir algo así. Esta era una oportunidad única, así que le dije: "Dime todo". Él me respondió: "Sí, te voy a decir todo lo del robo del siglo".

Martina: Rodolfo Palacios wrote a book about the robbery, called Sin armas ni rencores or "Without Weapons or bad blood." In 2020, it was turned into a movie called "The Theft of the Century." To Fernando Araujo's disappointment, Tom Cruise did not star in it.

María Ripetta is still a journalist. She works in television as a news anchor and has won many awards for her work.

Fernando Araujo, the mastermind, has plans to become a screenwriter. He no longer lives with his mother.

Mario Vitette, the man in the gray suit, was extradited to his native Uruguay, where he finished his sentence. Today, he owns a jewelry store and is prohibited from ever entering Argentina again.

Julián Zalloechevarría, the driver, is currently studying to become a lawyer at a university in the province of Buenos Aires.

Sebastián García Bolster, the engineer, still fixes motorcycles. He also builds houses and is currently building an airplane for fun.

Alberto de la Torre has left behind his life of crime and launched a second career…in show business. He's been cast as an extra in several movies and television series.

Alicia Di Tullio has kept a low profile all these years. She currently makes a living as a hospice worker.

Prosecutor Ariel Apolo is now a juvenile court judge.

Officer M. has retired, but every year, on January 13th he calls the other agents in his brigade to celebrate the anniversary of the bank robbery that changed their lives and that they were able to solve, against all odds.

To this day, with the exception of what was found at Alberto de La Torre's house, the vast majority of the stolen valuables were never recovered.

Martina: And that is it for El gran robo argentino — the Great Argentine Heist.

We'd love to know what you thought of this special season! We would also love to hear your lingering questions about the story, or the case. You can call and leave us a voicemail or audio message on WhatsApp, at +1 703 953 93 69, or write us an email at podcast@duolingo.com. You can find the entire season and all of our previous episodes along with their transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com. You can also subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss an episode.

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The Duolingo Spanish Podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Our managing editor this season was David Alandete; our senior editors, Catalina May and Stephanie Joyce; our production managers, Mariano Pagella and Román Frontini. Our producers were Tali Goldman and Alejandro Marinelli. Mixing was done by Andrés Fechtenholz and Martín Pérez Roa. Our mastering engineers and sound designers are Martín Cruz Farga and Antonio Romero, who also composed our original music. Our supervising producer at Duolingo was Laura Macomber. Our Duolingo coordinating producer was María Abascal. Duolingo story editing and Spanish language support was provided by María Mandelli, Kevin Kunitake, Michaela Kron, Tim Shey, Dre Ficeri, Mary van Ogtrop, Rebeca Ricoy Paramo, and Karla de Seijas.

Luis Ziembrowski lent his voice to Officer M., who preferred to remain anonymous for the series.

Special thanks to Mariano Pagella, Tali Goldman, Nadia Chiaramoni, Nicolás Sosa, Andrés Fechtenholz, Cristian Di Pasquo, Alejandro Csöme, Sasha Bentancor, and Román Frontini for lending their voices to the hostages and other witnesses in the court case.

I'm the executive producer, Martina Castro, ¡gracias por escuchar!