On Sept. 12, 1983, the plot unfolded. Witnesses told authorities that Gerena came back to the depot with a load of cash at 9:30 p.m. He and two guards were supposed to count the multi-million dollars collected that day, but Gerena's colleagues were captivated by a Monday night football game. Gerena took the opportunity to grab one of their guns. He then handcuffed one guard, tied the other with rope and then injected both with an unidentified substance presumably a drug intended to make them sleep.
The two doped guards never did sleep. They laid on the floor for an hour and a half while Gerena packed money into bags and dragged them to his getaway car.
Over the next three years, the cash was carried across the country in small amounts by members of the conspiracy, mostly through Texas into Mexico. Some of the money, investigators said, ended up in Cuba where it was allegedly used to support the Castro regime.
Genera has never been found.
The FBI, of course, responded to the robbery with a massive investigation. Bergenn recalls dozens of agents being put on the case and, in response, the independence group pretty much taunting the feds. "It was like the Yankees and Red Sox," Bergenn said.
For example, Los Macheteros organized a toy drive in December after the robbery. They recruited young college graduates from Puerto Rico to fly up and take part in a parade down Park Street in Hartford, "literally giving out toys," Bergenn said.
The Macheteros sent out letters to supporters claiming the toy giveaway was conducted with proceeds of the robbery and the FBI swarmed in to find the organizers. Among those arrested were Bergenn's client, Carlos Ayes-Suarez, an archaeologist accused of helping to transport robbery proceeds out of the country.
In fact, indictments were filed against 19 defendants in 1985, and most were marched into the heavily guarded Hartford courthouse for arraignments, some accompanied by prominent civil rights lawyers, including William Kunstler and Michael Deutsch.
But two key figures were missing. One of them was one of Los Machetros' leaders, Ojeda Rios. The other was Norberto Gonzalez-Claudio. Although he had not been in West Hartford during the robbery, there was evidence that Gonzalez acted as one of the ringleaders. Long before text messaging and wireless personal computers, he had allegedly mailed messages bearing instructions to other Los Macheteros members, who acted in otherwise independent cells.
Over the next few years, many of the defendants entered guilty pleas. But two went to trial. One of them was Juan Segarra Palmer, who was found guilty of plotting the robbery and sentenced to 65 years in prison.