Why did four bank thieves buy a luxury suite for an NBA team?

Four Atlanta-area men were sentenced to prison terms for defrauding a bank of millions of dollars and spending the money lavishly. Among the items bought was a private suite for the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.

David Goldman/AP
Members of a Color Guard cast shadows on the court during the National Anthem of an NBA basketball game between the Atlanta Hawks and the San Antonio Spurs Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Atlanta.

There is an unwritten rule among bank robbers to not draw attention to oneself by spending the loot on luxury items after a successful heist.

Apparently for Zachary Vaughn, 35, Derek Spinks, 35, Harry Cobb, 48, and William Leese, 33, all from the metro Atlanta area, subtlety was overrated. The four men were sentenced to federal prison terms ranging from one to five years for their respective parts in stealing over $4 million from The Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon and purchasing a luxury suite at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, which is home to the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Atlanta Hawks. 

Vaughn, an Atlanta resident who received five years, worked at BNY Mellon from 2005 to 2013 and had access to client funds. One of the client accounts Vaughn had access to contained $4.3 million. Vaughn and Spinks, of Austell, Ga. who received two years, conspired to steal money out of this account, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In December 2009, Vaughn wired $4.3 million from the New York bank to an account in the name of a business owned by Spinks. At that point, Spinks invested the money into C&L Logistics and Transportation, LLC, which was a business owned by Leese, of Duluth, Ga, who received a three-year prison term, and Cobb, of Decatur, Ga, who received more than a year, the newspaper reported. In 2010, the $4 million was moved into an account owned by Leese and Cobb.

The four men spent the cash on vehicles, trips, and gold, in addition to the luxury suite. The theft went unnoticed by The Bank of New York Mellon until Vaughn left in 2013 because he kept moving money around to cover for the shortfalls in the accounts.

“In 2009, Defendant Vaughn brazenly stole more than $4 million and for years manipulated bank accounts to cover his tracks, all for the benefit of himself and his co-conspirators who enjoyed the fruits of the theft,” the office of US Attorney John Horn said in an email exchange with the Journal-Constitution.

In addition to their prison sentences, the defendants will have to return $4,387,598.57 in restitution. 

The four were caught in 2013, which coincides with a period of time when the Hawks were in the bottom third of the NBA in terms of attendance ranks, according to ESPN. From 2005-2015, the Hawks were just good enough to qualify for the NBA playoffs but never finished better than 18th in attendance.

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