Sun, Jul 16, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Bank robbers use washing machines to launder money

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Among New York City's criminal sophisticates, "washing money" is a figure of speech referring to the sometimes complex transactions through which ill-gotten gains are cleansed of their criminal taint.

Anthony Digiosaffatte and Paul Villanueva, despite their lengthy arrest records, are apparently not among New York City's criminal sophisticates.

The two men appeared in US District Court in Brooklyn on Friday on bank robbery charges, a day after FBI agents and police detectives arrested them and concluded that they had tried to launder -- quite literally -- their dirty money.

According to criminal complaints filed in the case, they stole US$65,000 at gunpoint on Tuesday from a Queens County Savings Bank branch in Howard Beach. Digiosaffatte, 51, had used a milk crate to vault over the counter and empty the teller drawers, according to the complaints, displaying what seemed to be more than a passing familiarity with the mechanics of bank robbery as he commanded, "No dye packs."

But according to the complaints, sworn by Special Agent John Cody of the FBI, the tellers apparently ignored him, because much of the cash ended up stained with red dye. Banks routinely use the exploding dye packs to foil robbers by making stolen cash unusable.

However, Digiosaffatte and Villanueva, 37, who are both from Ozone Park, Queens, were undeterred, officials said. Having dropped roughly US$30,000 in smoldering red cash on the sidewalk outside the bank, and having abandoned more in the stolen green Jeep Cherokee they allegedly used as a getaway car, they weren't letting any more go to waste, officials said.

Perhaps because they had already been spending with gusto -- splurging on "hookers, heroin and high-tops," in the words of a police officer -- the pair used a motel washing machine to cleanse their remaining cash.

"They went to the coin-operated laundry room and put it in the washing machine," the official said. "It got rid of some of the dye, but it left the money looking pretty disheveled."

Clean money or no, the fun came to an abrupt end early on Thursday when FBI agents and New York police detectives from the Joint Bank Robbery Task Force found the two at Metro Motel on Queens Boulevard.

Digiosaffatte, who was on parole from an earlier robbery conviction, answered when the investigators knocked on the door about 12:30am, and was arrested, according to the complaint.

A short time later, Villanueva, who is known as Bam Bam, arrived in a cab holding some of the stained cash and a case of beer, the criminal complaint said.

A search of two rooms the men were using uncovered about US$20,000 in cash along with a loaded .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol and a black pellet gun that investigators believe were used in the robbery, it said.

The investigators also found several mesh bags of the type normally used for washing delicate items, the sergeant said.

Using Cheer detergent, he said, they had run the cash through washing machines over and over.

"They had to do it a lot of times, but it still had a pink color," he said. "It got rid of the brilliant tone."

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