Jacksonville man behind $18.8 million heist out of prison after 22 years

Philip Johnson was sentenced for a 1997 armored car heist that got national media attention

Philip Johnson was sentenced for a 1997 armored car heist that got national media attention

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Philip Johnson, the Jacksonville mastermind behind what was once the biggest cash heist in U.S. history, is out of federal prison.

The former disgruntled armored-car driver served 22 years for the 1997 armored car caper of almost $19 million. It’s a story that got national attention.

Johnson was an armored car driver for Loomis Fargo off Emerson Street in the 1990s. On March 29, 1997, instead of going home after his shift ended, Johnson robbed his employer of ten years.

“I sincerely believed that he sincerely believed in what he was doing as a labor protest," said Tom Cushman, a St. Augustine attorney who represented Johnson.

Cushman said Johnson was anguished and resentful of his job that paid him $7 an hour. 22 years later Cushman remembers his client favorably.

“I always liked Philip, he was quiet, but he was very intense," Cushman said.

Johnson overpowered two of his co-workers and left them handcuffed in different locations. He was then strategic loading canvas bags with bills no smaller than $10.

He stashed most of the $18.8 million in a storage shed in Mountain Home, North Carolina and moved to Mexico City.

"Philip was very bright. He did not let on that he thought deeply or that he was very bright but clearly he was,” Cushman said.

Five months after the heist, a U.S. customs agent at the border crossing busted Johnson on a bus bound for Houston.

He was arrested and brought back to Jacksonville. In 1999, Johnson was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

According to the Chicago Tribune, all but $186,000 of the haul was found in a mini-warehouse in North Carolina in September. When arrested, Johnson was carrying nearly $11,000. He later surrendered $65,000 in eight Mexican bank accounts.

Cushman doesn’t know where he is today. No one we’ve talked with does. Johnson’s last address was a federal prison in California.

“I would think that he would be doing something very low key avoiding publicity, although it seemed to me he had a good story to tell," Cushman said.

Johnson was 33 at the time and would now be in his late 50s.

News4Jax left a voicemail for the branch manager of Loomis Fargo to see if they could provide a comment for this story. So far we have not heard back.

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