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One of the thieves who stole about $1.5 million from a Brink's armored truck Tuesday outside the Walden Galleria mall left a gun in one of the vehicles used in the robbery, sources said today.

The mistake is being called an important piece of physical evidence in the investigation into the robbery.

Four gunmen robbed the Brink's truck in a mall parking lot at mid-morning and escaped in a car that they later abandoned.

The car, which had been stolen, was recovered behind Niagara Candy Inc., 3500 Genesee St., Cheektowaga Police Detective Lt. James Morath said.

The car and a white van also used in the robbery, but left at the scene, were checked for fingerprints and examined closely for other possible evidence, Morath said.

Paul Moskal, spokesman for the Buffalo FBI office, said he could not confirm or deny whether weapons were found.

"I can confirm there was physical evidence found, which is being flown to our FBI lab in Washington," Moskal said. "It will be examined for fingerprints, hairs and fibers. We are following a number of leads in this case."

Moskal also said officials of Brink's Inc. would be in Buffalo late today to announce a substantial reward for information leading to a conviction in the case. More money was stolen in the Brink's robbery than in any Buffalo-area robbery in memory, Moskal said.

"They've asked us not to release the reward amount, but it will be well over $10,000," the agent said. "Hundreds of shoppers at the mall yesterday may have witnessed parts of this incident, and anyone who saw anything even mildly suspicious or unusual should call us."

The holdup began at 10:04 a.m. as the truck with the Brink's guards pulled up to the mall entrance near Ruby Tuesday's restaurant to deliver the money to a Key Bank branch in the mall.

Citing security reason, the bank would not say where the armored vehicle was coming from.

The van, which had been reported stolen from Amherst, was used to block the path of the armored car while the car was used to nudge it from behind, Morath said.

"The bank guards came out of the truck at this time," Morath said. "They were just exiting to make the delivery."

Morath said that before the guards could react, at least three men from the sedan and the van driver -- all wearing ski masks -- threatened the two guards, a man and a woman, with guns. Police were told one of the guns was a sub-machine gun, he said.

The robbery was quick, according to Morath. The robbers took a gun from the male guard and then grabbed three bags containing the money from inside the armored car.

Witnesses then saw the gunmen drive off in the sedan that nudged the back of the armored car.

A mall security guard became aware of what had happened and followed the sedan in a pickup truck until it reached the Thruway, police said. The mall guard then lost track of the getaway car.

The car, a brown, four-door 1982 Chevrolet Caprice with a bronze top, was seen going east on the Thruway before it was found at the plant.

Police said the car was owned by a Williamsville man and was stolen Friday from outside the Transit Lanes bowling alley on Transit Road in Amherst.

Police said the robbery was the first in the area involving a local armored truck in recent memory.

On June 26 an armored truck was robbed of $10.8 million robbery in a Rochester suburb.

That heist, the largest amount taken from an armored vehicle in U.S. history, involved an Armored Motor Service of America truck that was headed to the Buffalo branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.

"I don't believe the robberies are related," Morath said.

Morath said it was fortunate no one was injured.

"It was a well thought-out plan," he said.

Staff Reporters Gene Warner and Lonnie Hudkins contributed to this report.

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