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Luxury surrounded the twenty-year-old. He saw it on the slopes and in the parking lots, on the tourists wearing designer clothes and diamond rings, on the menus of the gourmet restaurants. Prince and his friend, nineteen-year-old Luke Carroll, worked at Pepi's Sports, but dishing out rentals and selling skis wasn't paying the kind of cash they needed to indulge in the town's lavish lifestyle.
So they decided to rob the WestStar Bank in Vail Village…with BB guns.
The two Australians had moved to Vail in late 2004, coming on temporary work visas to snowboard and have a few adventures. They got a little wild and crazy on occasion -- once getting busted for shooting out windows in east Vail with Daisy pellet guns they'd bought at the Wal-Mart in Avon -- but for the most part, they spent their time working, hitting the slopes and thinking about the good life. When Prince noticed the lack of security at the WestStar branch where he banked, about a quarter-mile from the chairlifts, he began to fantasize about robbing the place. He figured he could get away with $10,000, easy, so he talked to Carroll, and the two agreed to hit the bank and split the profits fifty-fifty.
Prince started paying attention to the tellers' procedures; he discovered that early mornings, before the bank opened at 10 a.m., was the best time to try and enter. Often the first employee would arrive, unlock the outer doors, relock them after walking through and then unlock the second set of doors, which would remain open. Then, when the next employee arrived and opened the outer doors, he could bust through and have full access to the bank.
As the ski season wound down, Prince and Carroll decided the time was right. On Monday, March 21, Carroll called in sick to work, and the two dressed in ski gear so that they would blend in with the crowd. Prince pinned a phony name tag to his jacket, so that he was "Dave" from "Valley Electric." They packed a backpack with zip ties from the local hardware store, a pillowcase, some walkie-talkies and their BB guns. The one thing Prince didn't have was his season snowboarding pass.
So when they got to the slopes about 9:15 a.m., he had to go and get a replacement pass. After that, Carroll and Prince waited outside the bank until the first employee showed up. As expected, she locked the outer doors and left the inner ones unlocked for the next employee. That person was a female teller who had her hands full: She was carrying a cake. After unlocking the outer doors, she went toward a counter to set down the cake. That gave Prince and Carroll the chance to burst in with their CO2-charged pistols and shove her inside the bank, according to police reports.
They forced her to the ground, and Carroll pushed the other bank employee into the safe, demanding that she put the cash into the pillowcase. Meanwhile, a customer approached -- but Prince turned him away, telling him that the bank was closed because of electrical problems. Once Carroll had the money, he and Prince ordered the two women to lie face-down on the floor, and then they fled.
Prince and Carroll made a brief stop to dump the money from the pillowcase into the backpack. There was too much to fit, so they ditched some of it, opting to cast off the lowest denomination: 2,000 singles in stacks of a hundred, bound by paper rings marked "Federal Reserve Bank." They also ditched their walkie-talkies, BB guns and Prince's Billabong jacket with the phony name tag.
They hustled over to Los Amigos restaurant in Vail Village, where their snowboards were waiting. The original plan was to hit the Vista Bahn lift, but the line was long, so they walked over to the Riva Bahn lift, took it to the top, strapped on their boards and rode to the bottom.
They caught a shuttle to Gart Sports, where they bought new clothes and a new backpack in which to stash the money. From there they caught a cab to their apartments in east Vail and then to Denver. On the way down, they stopped by the Jared Galleria of Jewelry in Westminster and unsuccessfully tried to buy a couple of $20,000 Rolex watches with stacks of five-dollar bills. Down the street at the Shane Company, however, Prince and Carroll were able to pick up a $9,500 diamond and a $2,000 ring. Shortly after they left there, the Westminster Police Department received a report from the Jared Galleria of two white males claiming to be from New Zealand and trying to buy large items with small bills. Back in Vail, someone else reported finding stacks of cash, BB guns, walkie-talkies and a jacket.
When Prince and Carroll reached their Denver hotel, they were amazed to discover that they had much, much more than the $10,000 they had anticipated. Prince estimated $60,000; Carroll thought it was only $40,000. Police later found pictures of the two in Prince's digital camera, posing with the stacks of cash.
They knew it couldn't be that easy to rob a bank of that much money, so they decided to get out of town. They took another cab to the Greyhound station in downtown Denver but found that no more buses were leaving that night, so they grabbed a bite at Burger King and contemplated their options. Home or Mexico looked like the way to go, so they called another taxi to take them to Denver International Airport, where they inquired about one-way flights. The attendant explained that only round trips were available, and none of those would be leaving until the following morning.
The two cooled their heels in a hotel close to the airport, then headed back to DIA for a 9:15 a.m. flight to Puerto Vallarta, unaware that overnight the FBI had sent out a bulletin with their photos. The officer who'd busted the boys earlier for shooting out windows recognized the pellet guns on the bank's surveillance tapes (the robbers were masked), and with witnesses reporting that the culprits had Australian-sounding accents, it didn't take long for the Vail police to settle on the prime suspects. They followed their suspicion to Pepi's, where they learned that Prince had gotten a new snowboarding pass that day. They then discovered that Carroll and Prince had both had their passes scanned at the lift line near the bank within minutes of the robbery.
Back at DIA, Prince and Carroll were beginning to panic. They still didn't know how much they had, but they figured it was too much to carry onto an airplane. So Carroll crammed 61 $100 bills and 76 $20 bills into his back pocket, while Prince shoved wads of cash into his money belt; they left a backpack stuffed with $26,000 in a trash can outside level six of the airport.
But when an employee checked their IDs and recognized Prince's name from the FBI bulletin, they were taken to a back room for interrogation. After that, the gig was up: Prince and Carroll both confessed. They pleaded guilty in June to robbing the WestStar Bank of $132,000. When they were sentenced on September 22, Carroll got five years in jail and Prince got four and a half; the thieves were also ordered to pay back $21,657.78 that the authorities couldn't recover.
"We see an increase in our crime toward the end of ski season," says Vail police spokeswoman Susan Douglas. "Usually the perpetrators are leaving town and they don't have the money, so they try to get the money."
Last month, the boys were sitting in Teller County Jail; neither they nor family members visiting from Australia would talk about the crime.
Prince and Carroll had had such high hopes for their time in America -- but it looks like it's all downhill from here.