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SUSPECT SOUGHT AS POLICE PROBE $10.8 MILLION ARMORED TRUCK HEIST

Rochester police today were looking for a suspect who wore a security guard's uniform as they investigated the robbery of $10.8 million taken from an armored truck carrying cash from Rochester to Buffalo.

The armed robbery -- the largest armored car heist in U.S. history and by far the biggest theft in Western New York -- happened Tuesday morning in the Rochester suburb of Henrietta.

FBI agents and the Monroe County Sheriff's Department are investigating the robbery as a possible "inside job," said G. Robert Langford, special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office.

Two guards assigned to the truck were given polygraph tests, but the results were not make public, officials said.

"That is one avenue we are investigating," Langford said. "In a crime like this, you often see the involvement of a current or former employee who might have access to information about routes, times and the amount of money that is being transported."

"There is a very strong possibility someone involved in this case had some inside information," said another law enforcement official.

Langford also confirmed that authorities believe one of the two suspects was wearing a brown security guard's uniform.

"The uniform was similar to the uniforms worn by the company that operated the truck," Langford said. "We don't know if that means he was an employee or if the uniform was used to gain access to the truck or to prevent him from attracting a lot of attention."

The Armored Motor Service of America truck was headed to the Buffalo branch of the Federal Reserve Bank when it was held up at about 7:20 a.m., Monroe County Sheriff's Department officials said.

The truck, with a driver and guard, left the company offices in the Rochester suburb of Chili about 7 a.m., said Tom Ryan, Sheriff's Department spokesman. The holdup took place when they stopped at the nearby Bi Rite Market and the guard, a woman, left the truck to buy coffee and sandwiches, Ryan said.

While the guard was in the store, a gunman stuck a shotgun in the slot of the armored car and managed to get control of the vehicle, Meloni said. When the guard returned to the car, she also was placed under the gunman's control.

Officials have not released the names of the two employees, who were unhurt.

According to FBI records in Washington, the largest robbery from an armored car service was in 1982, when $11 million was taken from a Sentry Armored Car Courier Co. office the Bronx section of New York City. In April 1985, nearly $8 million was stolen from a Wells Fargo depot in the Manhattan area of New York City.

FBI Special Agent Gene Harding said one of the employees was armed but would not specify which one.

It is the second multimillion-dollar heist the Armored Motor Service company has suffered in the past 13 months.

In May 1989, $2.9 million was stolen from a company truck in East Syracuse after two men drove a one-ton truck through an overhead garage door and pistol-whipped two guards.

The men are now on trial in federal court in Syracuse. One of the security guards involved in that case pleaded guilty last year to taking part in the robbery.

The employees said they could not give a good description of the robbers in Tuesday's heist because they were told not to turn around, police said. The employees were ordered to drive to a wooded area behind the Rochester Institute of Technology, about half a mile from the convenience store, where they were tied up, blindfolded and gagged.

The robbers transferred the money bags from the armored car to a gray van and took off, Ryan said.

Monroe County Sheriff Andrew P. Meloni said the money weighed 1,600 to 1,700 pounds.

The victims of Tuesday's robbery were able to free themselves within 15 minutes and drove back to the company headquarters. The Sheriff's Department was informed of the robbery at 7:39 a.m.

Meloni said he had no suspects in the robbery.

"There are a lot of questions, obviously, about the manner of the heist," Meloni said. "It appeared to be well-planned."

The two guards, who worked for the company for six and 12 months, respectively, were questioned all day and into the evening by FBI and sheriff's officials, police said.

The guards are "not really" suspects, Meloni said. "They obviously need to be talked to," he said.

The company controller George Clark said guards agree to submit to lie-detector tests as a condition of employment.

Meloni said sheriff's officials and the FBI are looking for witnesses who saw the armored truck at any time Tuesday morning and agents are reviewing the company's records.

Meloni said he could not comment on whether the employees' actions followed company policy.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss any violation of standard operating procedure," he said.

Meloni said the stolen bills are not traceable, but he would not specify why. He said officials still were investigating where the money came from.

The Federal Reserve Bank in Buffalo supplies coin and currency to banks throughout the region. Banks, in turn, send surplus money to the Federal Reserve for storage.

James Aston, vice president and branch manager of the Federal Reserve Bank in Buffalo, said the bank frequently has shipments coming and going. He said the bank does not know in advance how much will be brought in.

Aston said $10.8 million "was not an extraordinary figure" for an armored car to be carrying.

Loss or theft of money headed for the Federal Reserve would be covered under an agreement between the banks and the carrier, Aston said.

"Typically, the carrier is insured," he said.

News wire services contributed to this report.

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