Broward County

The FBI found a tunnel leading to a bank in Florida suburbia. Did a burglar have plans?

In what sounds like the plot from a bank heist movie, the FBI is on the case of a tunnel that leads to a bank.

On Wednesday, agents swarmed the area to investigate what seems to be an attempt to reach a Chase branch by burrowing underground.

This all unfolded in the middle of South Florida suburbia on a busy weekday, along one of West Broward’s most-traveled intersections.

The clues to what lay underneath started to surface the night before. Someone reported seeing a pothole. The first call went to the Pembroke Pines Public Works Department.

What the crew saw was no ordinary pothole.

An orange extension cord was peeking through — the simple kind you might pick up at a grocery or hardware store. That didn’t look right to the work crew.

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The tunnel’s entrance near the Chase bank branch and the extension cord a public works crew spotted, which led them to contact Pembroke Pines police. Courtesy FBI Miami

That’s when they called the cops.

The city’s police department also thought the hole looked suspicious. So they called in the feds.

What police and the FBI found at the hole — its entrance covered by a wooden pallet in the wooded area just south of the bank — was “unique,” said Miami FBI spokesman Michael Leverock.

At the tunnel site, the FBI found a Honda generator, a winch and a wagon above ground near the woods line — indicating that someone was using some sort of rope in the tunnel, Leverock explained.

Under the FBI’s supervision, more road crews descended on the site. Using heavy equipment, they tore up a two-lane street leading to the shopping plaza. That allowed investigators to comb through the tunnel.

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The winch found at a tunnel near a Chase bank branch in Pembroke Pines on Jan. 30, 2019. Courtesy FBI Miami

Seasoned agents marveled at the dimensions. And couldn’t think of another example of a tunnel leading burglars under and into a bank.

(In 1977, the Standard Bank in Krugersdorp, South Africa, was robbed by people who took three months to excavate their way inside. That tunnel heist remains unsolved.)

“I’ve only seen something like this in the movies — and I’m not even sure I’ve seen this because it’s so small,” the FBI’s Leverock said.

How small?

Leverock said the tunnel was 2 to 3 feet in diameter and about 50 yards in length. No job for anyone but the slimmest of bank robbers.

“You would have to be really small to get in there and it would be very claustrophobic,” Leverock said. “There’s no way anybody could sit up in there, that’s how small it was.”

But whoever dug through the wooded area to get to the bank wasn’t in a hurry.

“They could have been doing this for months. This was not an overnight thing,” Leverock said.

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The original hole facing north with the Chase bank branch in Pembroke Pines on Jan. 30, 2019. Courtesy FBI Miami

The FBI is treating the discovery as an attempted bank burglary.

Chase has not commented on the tunnel’s impact on the branch, at 390 S. Flamingo Rd.

A Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit was called in Wednesday to pick up the scent of anyone hiding inside. No one was found.

The bank was not breached and no money was stolen, the FBI said.

The FBI’s investigation is ongoing. The bank remained open.

Robert Lazarow showed up to do a bank transaction and saw police tape, FBI vehicles and television cameras. He said he thought it was a bank robbery. He then learned what happened by looking it up on his cellphone.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “You only hear about things like that in the movies. How would someone think you could get away with that?”

The FBI asks that if anyone saw suspicious activity in the area — most likely after dark — they call 754-703-2000.

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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