Manhattan's brazen bucket-of-gold thief, famous from viral video, is caught in Ecuador

By Ben Guarino, Amy B Wang

A man who police say absconded in broad daylight with an 86-pound bucket of gold stolen from the back of a truck in New York City this fall has finally been caught after he evaded authorities for nearly four months.

Julio Nivelo, 53, was apprehended Thursday in Ecuador by local police and members of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the New York Police Department.

Nivelo has had run-ins with the law before. A 5-foot-5, 155-pound thief who operates out of New Jersey, Nivelo used aliases including Luis Toledo and David Vargas, police said.

Caught gold-handed: Police have spent nearly four months looking for this man, who they say stole $1.6m of gold flakes. Photo / NYPD
Caught gold-handed: Police have spent nearly four months looking for this man, who they say stole $1.6m of gold flakes. Photo / NYPD

"He is, I would say, a professional burglar, a professional thief," New York Police Detective Martin Pastor told the New York Daily News last year.

Authorities had arrested Nivelo before, subsequently deporting him to his home country of Ecuador a total of four times.

In November, police released the video footage of the Sept. 29 incident. Guards parked the armoured car along Manhattan's 48th Street, a crowded area near Rockefeller Center. While the two guards were distracted and talking by the vehicle's front, the man struck from the rear.

The precious metal had been sitting unattended in a bucket in the back of a Loomis International armoured truck, its rear doors open wide. The man filched the five-gallon metal bucket out of the back and took off down the sidewalk as fast as he could waddle. He struggled with the gold's heft for a few blocks while fleeing the scene.

At first, authorities thought the man had fled to Florida. In late December, police said they believed Nivelo was in the Los Angeles area.

Footage showed the man as he walked past the truck, looped around to take a better look, and stood for a moment, apparently pondering his crime. Photo / NYPD
Footage showed the man as he walked past the truck, looped around to take a better look, and stood for a moment, apparently pondering his crime. Photo / NYPD

Last December, the New York Times reported that Loomis fired the two guards, though the men had been cleared of any suspicion. It was not an inside heist, officials said - just a theft of opportunity.

Police believe the thief did not know at the time what he had taken. Originally depicted as gold flakes, the valuable jewellery scraps were in fact melted into lumpy bars, the Times reported, and kept in buckets for transportation.

A New York police spokesman did not respond to an inquiry Saturday about how authorities had tracked Nivelo to Ecuador or whether they had recovered any of the stolen gold, estimated to be worth $1.6 million.

Considering the brazen nature of the job, and the stolen goods - a pot of gold - the thief caught a fair bit of attention. (One police photo shows a grinning Nivelo on a bicycle with a prop E.T. in the basket.)

The effort to find the man had been dubbed, reportedly, "Operation Lucky Charm."

- Washington Post

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