The final trial of the men accused of New Zealand's most spectacular robbery was held this week. ALISON HORWOOD reports on a criminal fantasy that ended in tears.
Police investigating New Zealand's biggest bank raid wanted to take the standard mugshot of Peter Richard Tyson, he dropped to one knee, bare-chested and posed like a bodybuilder.
When the police told him he was under arrest, he asked to see the head of the Wellington CIB, Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Vaughan. Asked why, he replied that he wanted "to meet the man who took down The Man".
The pose was everything. Tyson had been the key figure in a robbery that netted almost a million dollars in cash and was organised as elaborately as any Hollywood crime caper.
But the criminal masterstroke soon fell apart. Tyson's team were not hardened villains and the police broke the gang open with ease. Seven conspirators, including Tyson, were soon before the courts, pleading guilty.
But the bursting of the bubble did not seem to upset Tyson. One police officer investigating the case said Tyson was "proud he was number one, and still is quite proud of the fact he almost pulled off the biggest armed robbery in New Zealand".
During a five-hour interview in January last year, Tyson took off his shirt, revealing the tattoo TYSON in fist-high letters on his stomach. He strutted the room, answering questions politely but dropping several times to the floor to do push-ups. He told one female officer he wanted to "swim in your blue eyes forever" and boasted to another he had had sex with 14 women in the previous fortnight.
He co-operated at all times and agreed to show police where the stash was hidden in the Waikato - but on one condition. He asked to travel north in a red Falcon XR6 mufti police car he had seen and admired. Police agreed.
The glamorous fantasy had still been a reality late on the night of December 21, 2000, when five men met behind the closed curtains of a suburban Upper Hutt home. In the dim light of the lounge, Tyson, Wayne Turner, John Rauhina Moeke, Craig Anthony Ferris, and Jonathon Robert McDonald checked and re-checked their tools.
One slug pistol, in a sock. One crowbar. One ornately carved wooden Maori club. Abseiling harnesses and ropes. A set of cellphones, programmed with quick-dial numbers. Two lookalike security guard uniforms, and earmuffs and overalls similar to a Wellington City Council worker's. One set of dark-coloured balaclavas, bought in Palmerston North to avoid suspicion, and custom-sewn to conceal facial features by Tyson's partner at the time, Samantha Roser, a dial-a-stripper.
After seven months of meticulous planning, surveillance and dry runs, Tyson and his hand-picked recruits, including several former security guards, were about to attempt a raid on a cash delivery to the National Bank ATM in Willis St, central Wellington.
Ex-security guard Tyson knew the particular machine was out of the public eye. He knew how the security staff were trained to deal with attacks. Most importantly, he knew that the last Friday before Christmas was the most lucrative time to hit.
By 3.30 that morning, the men, all aged in their 20s, had left the Upper Hutt address and were driving into Wellington, McDonald at the wheel.
Tyson, Moeke and Ferris got out of the car in the road behind the money machine. Tyson and Ferris were disguised as security guards and all three carried weapons.
They quietly lowered themselves down a 7m concrete wall at the rear of the ATM - they had spent months practising abseiling under the cover of darkness at Trentham Racecourse - and scaled another wall to gain access to the ATM.
In the near-darkness, Turner collected the abseiling gear and returned to the car. He and McDonald drove to Petone, where they dumped that vehicle and picked up two more.
McDonald took his car to the Kaiwharawhara Gun magazine. The disused historic building at the bottom of Ngaio Gorge, several kilometres away, had been earmarked as the site to dump the Chubb security van which was the target of the raid.
Several weeks earlier, one of the gang had gas-torched a padlock off the gate to the magazine and replaced it.
On the day of the raid, McDonald, dressed as a council worker in overalls and earmuffs, had the key to the magazine and two backpacks for the loot, which were later found to be too small for all the cash. All he had to do that morning was keep low at the gunnery and wait.
Turner, meanwhile, drove to central Wellington and walked to Willis St. His role was to wait outside Reds Cafe opposite the money machine, and send a cellphone text message when the security guard arrived.
The elaborate set-up was in position. At about 6.25am, the Chubb van was loaded with 32 cash canisters and cash orders for Porirua and Kapiti businesses. In total it carried $940,404.
Roser, the mother of Tyson's two pre-school children, was the first to act. As she watched the van leave the Hutt, she text-messaged another member of the crew, Quintin William O'Brien.
From his position on Featherston St, he could see the van make its first stop on Lambton Quay. In turn he sent a message to Turner outside Reds Cafe.
O'Brien then drove to Sar St, Thorndon, where he was to keep an eye on peak-hour traffic leaving Tinakori Rd and update the others if there were any bottlenecks.
At about 7.30am, the van arrived on Willis St and parked opposite the money machine. Two guards - one male, one female - got out with four canisters of money.
The three robbers lying in wait behind the ATM received a text message to say they were on their way.
When the guards unlocked two internal doors to get access to the yard at the rear of the ATM, Tyson, Moeke and Ferris confronted them.
Tyson pointed the slug-pistol disguised in a sock. Moeke, armed with a crowbar, told them to get on the ground. Ferris, who had the club, taped their eyes, mouths and hands and feet.
The female guard was headlocked, forced to the ground and dragged 10m. The male was forced to the ground and dragged a short distance. Both received only minor injuries, and the woman would later recount to police how she had been handled gently.
Despite their disguises, Tyson and Moeke - who had both worked for Chubb in the past - were nervous of being recognised through their balaclavas or by their voices. The only words they spoke were to tell the guards to "be cool".
After the guards were taped together, Tyson and Ferris assumed their identities. They took the van keys, walked out of the building and drove off in the Chubb van.
Moeke took the bag of weapons and gear and met Turner on Willis St. They drove towards the gunnery in separate vehicles.
Their next job was to stall traffic travelling up and down the narrow and winding Ngaio Gorge road so no one would see the security van turning into the little-used private track to the gunnery.
With timing co-ordinated via cellphones, each drove slowly in opposite directions so the traffic banked up behind them. No motorist noticed the van turning off.
Tyson and Ferris, meanwhile, were en route to the gunnery. Tyson, a boxing enthusiast who referred to the raid as "The Real Deal Holyfield", was behind the wheel.
McDonald was text-messaged that the van was on its way. When it arrived at around 8am, he opened the gate, locked it behind them and threw away the key. The van was driven into the gunnery and the roller door pulled down.
Inside the building, Tyson and Ferris removed their disguises and broke open the canisters. The haul, mostly in $20 notes, was enormous. They stuffed it into the two backpacks but a substantial amount - up to $100,000 - did not fit and was left in the van in canisters.
Tyson, Ferris and McDonald then ran up a track to the Trelissick Park carpark, where Turner and Moeke were waiting in separate vehicles. They had planned to meet at a safe house in the Hutt, but Roser sent a message from Petone that police had blocked their escape route on the motorway north.
Instead, they re-grouped at a house in Porirua connected to a relative of Moeke's, and Tyson gave Moeke, Turner, McDonald and O'Brien $10,000 each.
By the evening of the following day, Tyson and Ferris were worrying they had left their fingerprints inside the van. They returned just before midnight and Ferris set fire to the vehicle and building, using a cigarette lighter.
Tyson later dropped Ferris off at the interisland ferry and he returned to the South Island, where he was living.
Ferris apparently received no payment for his involvement. Police say the two men had met on the ferry. They used to have three-way sex with Roser, but had fallen out when Tyson found the pair in bed without him.
Tyson had pulled off his masterstroke, but police believe he could not sleep for the next few days. He took the rest of the loot and the abseiling equipment to the Waikato, where at first he hid it in the wardrobe of a childhood friend. He later put it in a vacuum-sealed bag and buried it beneath some scrub near Otorohanga.
On December 27, Tyson used some of the money to buy a Ford Cosworth in Tauranga. He then returned to Wellington and spent two nights living the high life at the Park Royal, joined by a woman, not his girlfriend. When police later searched his room they found several empty Lindauer bottles.
But the spree would not last. Within days of the robbery, police began to realise that although it had been executed with a high degree of planning, the criminal fraternity knew nothing of it.
"The more we progressed with the investigation, the more we believed it was a past employee of the security company or an associate," says Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Vaughan.
When police worked through the list of former employees and their associates, Tyson's name came up quickly. He was already a suspect in an unsolved theft of $94,000 from Chubb in Petone.
Police say much of Tyson's skill was in recruiting less intelligent men with little ambition. None of them appeared to challenge Tyson's authority or demand too much.
"Tyson got people involved who looked up to him," said one officer. "He dreamed up this idea, and whereas most people would just think about it, he actually did it - and almost got away with it."
Police admit the raid was thoroughly planned. They learned the robbers originally planned to use ether to immobilise the guards, but after researching it thoroughly on the internet decided there was a possibility their victims might vomit and choke after being gagged.
But despite Tyson's months of planning there were fatal flaws. Too many people were involved, and since none of them were hardened criminals the chances were low that all of them would be able to keep their mouths shut. When police interviewed the men they soon admitted their involvement and led detectives to the others.
Some $258,000 of the haul was not recovered, but it is not known how much was destroyed when the van was burned.
All except one of the accused, Joe Vise Sua, an engineer of Taita, pleaded guilty to various charges. Sua's case, the last, came to court this week. He was discharged on a charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery after a key witness would not give evidence.
Ferris received nine-and-a-half years for aggravated robbery, unlawfully taking a motor vehicle and two arson charges.
Moeke was sentenced to eight years for aggravated robbery and unlawfully taking a motor vehicle.
McDonald, O'Brien and Turner were each originally sentenced to 7 1/2 years for aggravated robbery and unlawfully taking a vehicle. A year was later taken off each sentence by the Court of Appeal.
Roser, the mother of Tyson's children, was jailed for four years for aggravated robbery and unlawfully taking the van. Tyson's parents are caring for their children.
Tyson himself, acknowledged as the brains behind the scheme, was sentenced to 11 years for aggravated robbery, unlawfully taking a motor vehicle, two charges of arson and one of theft (for the earlier incident involving Chubb in Petone).
The boxing fanatic was not a bully or a violent man, according to police. He shed a few tears during his dealings with detectives. "He was pretty sensitive," said one officer.
In a letter read to the court at his sentencing, Tyson wrote about leaving a security firm in 1999. The language was characteristically inflated: "That was when a good man started his journey down the dark road to the dark side."
He was referring to the robbery, with at least one associate, of $94,000 from Chubb. Tyson used his share to set up Roser in a stripping business and buy a new car.
As a security guard, Tyson earned about $10 an hour, he told police, but had ambitions of being a police officer or joining the elite Special Air Service.
Police say he grew up in a good Hutt family and was frustrated he couldn't provide for his own children in the same way.
In his letter to the court he wrote, "My father is one of the hardest-working men I know and I looked at myself and thought, there is no way I could give my kids what he gave me and my brother and sister".
He said his children were his life. His daughter's name is tattooed above his heart.
"I never did this for the fame, fortune or greed," he wrote. "I did it for my kids.
"I never wanted to be a legend - I was a legend before any of this happened."