Emre Dogan* (name changed with *) closes the roller door of the garage in the basement, grabs the pallet truck and makes his way back through the security gate towards the elevator. He has been working here, in Gronau, Westphalia, at the headquarters of K K, a supermarket chain, for decades. He takes care of handing over the daily income to the money transporters. K K is the last stop on their tour; this is where most of the money is waiting. On a day like today, December 19, 2017, the run-up to Christmas, it is particularly busy. On a day like today, Dogan is guarding millions.

As Dogan rides back in the elevator, it’s about half past two in the afternoon, the past few minutes are running through his head. He gets a strange feeling.

Actually, the handover began as usual. At 2:18 p.m. the drivers called and said they would be there in 15 minutes. Ms. Meier*, his colleague, set her cell phone alarm for 2:28 p.m. Dogan took the large metal box with the day’s takings onto the pallet truck, took the elevator to the basement, went through the lock into the garage, pressed the button for the roller door. When it opened, the van was already at the ramp. He turned backwards into the garage, like he always did, just a little more diagonally.

Dogan didn’t know the two drivers yet, but they were wearing the red polo shirts of the cash-in-transit company. Dogan asked if they were new. No, they said, and that they knew Ms. Meier. While Dogan was talking to one of the men, the other scanned the barcode on the cash box, printed out the two receipts, signed them and handed one of them to Dogan.

As usual, Dogan and the men loaded the box into the back of the car. The loading area seemed emptier than usual, and the men didn’t have an empty box with them this time either. They said it was a replacement vehicle, the other van was full and they would hand over the box later. The men said goodbye and drove away.

And now Dogan is standing in the elevator and thinks to himself: Something isn’t right here. Up in the office, he and his colleagues call the cash-in-transit company. There they are told: No, nothing has changed from the original tour.

The transporter is right there with them.

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This text was published in stern Crime. The magazine tells true crime case stories in an extensive and detailed manner

Everything was actually quite simple: get out, say hello, scan, sign the receipts, put the box in the van and bye. “Nothing wild,” says Asier Rodriguez Santos. He grins. “Nothing wild if you’re the real thing.”

Rodriguez sits rocking at a table, room B.10.010, Willich correctional facility, through the barred window you can see gray walls with barbed wire, the soles of inmates and prison officers squeak in the hallway. He wears a T-shirt, jeans, sneakers and gold-rimmed glasses. Rodriguez, 29, can be extremely polite, articulate and charming. He can win people over, say people who know him. In any case, he doesn’t seem like someone who is serving twelve years for gang theft, robbery and possession of military weapons. More like a career-minded business student who found his way here.

When Rodriguez starts something, he’s passionate about it. He can analyze, plan, organize. With such talents, some people become rich. And the desire for money isn’t wrong in itself, says Rodriguez. Just the way he breastfed it.

“I just turned on the wrong corner.”

For example, in 2016. He met a man who used to wait tables with Rodriguez’s mother in an Italian restaurant, but now he drives a cash-in-transit van for a security company. He complains about the overtime and the lack of staff. He also says that because of this, the procedures are no longer followed properly.

The man will later say in court that Rodriguez persuaded him to take advantage of the loopholes in the system. Rodriguez will say the man reached out to him because he was looking for someone willing to “do something” on the cash-in-transit business.

What is certain is that a collaboration began at that time that became more creative with each coup. Until at the end there was a plan that sounded like something out of a bad Hollywood movie. Risky, daring, bold. That this works? Actually no chance.

Asier Rodriguez says: “I am an optimist.”

If your opponent is bigger, throw a stone. The mothers in his homeland instilled this in their children, says Rodriguez. He grew up in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, on the banks of the Río Ozama, in the Gualey district, between corrugated iron shacks.

His father, a Basque, left the family early. After a few years, his mother met a German, and mother and son moved with him to Marl, North Rhine-Westphalia, where the young Asian saw snow and blonde girls for the first time. He trained judo, kicked in the club and on the streets of Marl Mitte. “You always wanted to be the strongest, the biggest, the best, and have the most beautiful toy. competition. “It wasn’t a single-family settlement where you ride a bike as a child and everything is fine, no, different ethnic groups met each other,” says Rodriguez.

The German boys lacked warmth and loyalty. They often left him standing when there was stress, with the Arabs or Turks. And he wasn’t one to get respect with punches. “I mostly ran away or conceded.” He only learned to defend himself later. Rodriguez didn’t belong anywhere. Until boys from a large Arab family welcomed him into their home – and he was like one of them.

Even though mother and stepfather worked hard, they didn’t have much left. When he was ten or eleven, Rodriguez began stealing, first toys and later clothes and soccer shoes. At 14, he broke into a bed and mattress store with friends. One of them did a school internship there and knew where the safe was. A few thousand euros. The beginning of a criminal career. Rodriguez also says: the beginning of an addiction.

“Of course you were afraid. Window smashed. Adrenaline rush: Has anyone heard that? Then straight in, motion detector, alarm on, heart racing. But afterwards you thought: Wow, awesome, we’re really awesome. We are the baddest.”

He left secondary school without a qualification. The good life was just a crooked thing away. Previously he could hardly afford the kebab for 2.50 euros. “The more burglaries we committed, the more we could afford. We even went to restaurants and ate steak. We were 15 at the time.”

Then the men from Berlin came to Marl, cousins ​​of his Arab friend, guys on a completely different level, Champions League. They showed Rodriguez how to pry open a door with a screwdriver. How to get to the so-called locking lug of any lock with screw pliers. Or how to crack it using an “electric pick” – rrrt, rrrt, rrrt, and the door is open.

At that time, Rodriguez went on tour with the Berliners, but also alone. Apartments, houses, jewelers, hardware stores.

He ran things like an entrepreneur. People from the milieu gave him orders. “They came to us and said: I know where something is. There were also a lot of chatterboxes who often talked shit like: a million here, a million there! There was nothing afterwards, zero. But sometimes there were good things.”

His coups brought him recognition and money. “I was the best. Only the Berliners were equal to us.”

He was never caught, says Rodriguez, but was betrayed by local boys he had trained. In 2012, the Marl district court sentenced him to a youth prison of four and a half years for, among other things, 31 cases of serious gang theft.

Rodriguez was 19 years old at the time. Shortly before, he had become the father of a daughter who would later be diagnosed with early childhood autism. Fatherhood could have made him change his life. She didn’t.

He says that in his environment no one is proud of being pimps, drug dealers or robbers. They would all have preferred to become entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, top athletes.

“I told myself: If a certain amount of money comes in, then I’ll stop,” says Rodriguez. “But it’s a vicious circle. It never ends.”

Dortmund, four years later, September 10, 2016, 1:22 p.m. Rodriguez and his accomplice start marching, wearing dark clothes, hats and sports bags. In front of them, in the loading area of ​​the townhouse, was an abandoned cash-in-transit truck. The accomplice puts the key in the door. No alarm. The two are relieved to discover that Rodriguez’s friend was right: the lack of staff makes it easy for thieves.

The insider knew: The van on the “Dortmund Tour” only has two drivers who fill the pay machines at the town hall. He also knew that, contrary to regulations, the men left the vehicle in pairs and did not arm the alarm system. The insider also copied Rodriguez’s vehicle key.

Rodriguez gets into the van. They unlock the lock area, open the seals on the money containers, and stuff the notes into the pockets. They rush to their getaway vehicle. With more than 517,000 euros in his luggage.

Just a few weeks later, Rodriguez has the opportunity to think about what he will do with all the money – and how he can get more. He has to be in custody for another matter. The public prosecutor’s office accuses him and two other men of robbery and deprivation of liberty. It’s about a conflict in Rodriguez’s environment. He is innocent and the court will later acquit him. But until then he has time to come up with a plan.

It’s about the coup of his life.

His friend told him about a special tour. He collects a lot of money from the headquarters of the food company K K in Gronau, especially in the run-up to Christmas. The process is always the same. About ten minutes before arrival, the crew of the cash-in-transit vehicle announces itself by telephone. The driver parks backwards. The so-called runner receives the money box, scans the seals with a hand scanner, the scanner prints out two receipts, the runner and customer sign them, one for the transport company, one for K K. The full box is loaded into the car. You leave an empty box there.

Unlike other customers, the crew at K K does not have to identify themselves. And the van rarely arrives at the same time.

While handing over the money, you could ram the door with a vehicle, get your weapons out, put your hands up, say “Robbery!”, clear out the van, and run away. But what if someone actually shoots?

Rodriguez has another idea. He writes them down on small pieces of paper in his cell. “I thought back then, it would work,” he says. “This has to work.”

Anyone who breaks society’s rules is a criminal. But what if the prevailing law cements a world in which the rich get richer and the poor stay poor? Isn’t the criminal also a rebel?

For a long time, Rodriguez considered himself a kind of Robin Hood, taking from those who already have too much. His code, he says, also included an important rule: no violence. But today he knows that he lied to himself back then.

In 2016, he and an accomplice attacked the employee of a jewelry company, wearing a mask, in front of her house. He ripped her out of the car, pulled her to the trunk and forced her to put the goods out. For years afterwards, the woman suffered from nightmares and anxiety. He regrets that, says Rodriguez. It was planned differently back then, but he doesn’t want to say anything more about it. He also knows that people lost their jobs and fell into crises because he exploited their mistakes to enrich himself. Actually, he says, he always knew that this was all wrong.

Like many things at that time. He led a double life. At home the father of the family pretended to be retraining as a real estate agent. Who always justified the luxury in which he lives – AMG Mercedes, Rolex, first class flights to Dubai – with a good deal that he had just made. In reality, he was observing objects for his coups. He often had boys with him who stood by him in a changing lineup.

After his remand he prepares the next thing. Not really big yet. But again, something that his acquaintance from the cash-in-transit company pointed out to him. He told him about another security gap: So-called emergency drivers, who come out when ATMs aren’t working, should actually receive the key to open the machine and the required PIN separately. You would also have to tell them separately about the location of the machine. However, due to staff shortages and a lack of time, the insider’s company keeps the key, location and PIN together in a small suitcase that the incident drivers carry with them. Contrary to what is required, the suitcase is not regularly checked for completeness after the driver returns. Rodriguez’s insider took a key folder on a tour. Nobody noticed.

On the night of June 22, 2017, Rodriguez waited in his car in front of the Postbank branch in the small town of Werne. He has been observing her for the past few weeks. Now he has waited for the day when the machine will be full to the brim again. At 2:13 a.m. Rodriguez opens the machine: 254,000 euros.

Rodriguez is on a roll. Nothing seems impossible anymore.

What distinguishes the master thief from the occasional crook? He thinks things through, says Rodriguez. One of his favorite books is “The Art of War” by Sun Tsu. The book says: All warfare is based on deception – and whoever deceives wins. So strategists make theater.

The time has come in 2017. Rodriguez is directing his own major play.

Step one: the setting. He drives to Gronau, to the K K headquarters, dozens of times and watches the money transporter drive into the basement. At night he shines his flashlight through slits in the gate and sees: no cameras.

Step two: the props. Rodriguez and his accomplices buy a VW T5 cash-in-transit vehicle and paint it black. You order magnetic foil and cut it with a scalpel. Logo and lettering – everything should look like the original.

Also the inside of the car. Rodriguez says he took the photo himself: He went to the parking lot of the cash-in-transit company and pretended to be a student doing research for a presentation. He prints fake money, bundles it and puts it in so-called safe bags. It must appear as if the car is coming from its tour. There’s only one thing Rodriguez can’t get: an empty steel box that the drivers always bring with them to exchange.

In the Netherlands he has red polo shirts printed with the cash-in-transit company’s logo, and he buys trousers, belts, caps and nerdy glasses. He forges employee ID cards and gets a barcode scanner and printer from an electronics store. Like the cash-in-transit driver’s model, the device will beep when scanning, but it cannot print authentic receipts with the exact time. Rodriguez’s solution: create two receipts in advance for each minute in the planned period. Forging receipts digitally is not a problem, printing them is. Normal paper doesn’t look real, thermal paper is crumpled in your computer printer, so: stick thermal paper on normal paper, print it, peel it off again, cut it with a scalpel, clamp it in the hand printer and tear it off so that the receipt gets the characteristic points, and all that, while Rodriguez is wrapped in a hygiene overall – not the slightest trace of DNA should appear on the paper.

Finally step three: the sample. The insider described how the handover of the cash box went. He told them the names of the employees there. An accomplice who will accompany Rodriguez as a driver has worked for a cash-in-transit company himself and knows how to behave. Nevertheless, Rodriguez rehearses the minutes, in his head, in front of the mirror. He has to look like it’s everyday life for him: picking up a box full of money.

Whether an idea is incredibly brilliant or incredibly stupid depends on whether it works. But Rodriguez doesn’t want to dwell on failure. He just wanted to know if it worked.

December 19, 2017. Asier Rodriguez and his accomplice drive towards Gronau in their black money transporter. They wear the fake polo shirts. The hand printer dangles from Rodriguez’s shoulder and his nerdy glasses sit on his nose. A few kilometers from the destination, they stick the magnetic film with the company logo on the vehicle and attach false license plates.

2:18 p.m. Call to K K: We’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.

2:33 p.m. Next call: We’re here, we’re in a hurry.

The roller shutter opens and they park the cash-in-transit vehicle backwards into the garage. In the rearview mirror, Rodriguez sees the K K employee, Mr. Dogan, and the silver box. Rodriguez opens the vehicle door and gets out.

Short greeting. “The door can’t be opened again today, we have to do it from the inside,” says Rodriguez. He knows that such a problem can arise.

“Are you new?” asks Dogan.

“No, no, we’ve been here several times, we also know Ms. Meier.”

While his accomplice engages Dogan in conversation, Rodriguez goes to the box and pulls out the scanner. Red rays flicker over the barcode on the seal, the scanner beeps.

Rodriguez fiddles with the scanner and says: The paper is gone. He goes back into the driver’s cab, where Dogan doesn’t see him, and prints out a blank receipt so that Dogan can hear the sound of the machine. He looks at the clock and fishes the receipt with the correct time out of a bag. Outside he puts it into Dogan’s hand. He looks at the receipt. For a moment, Rodriguez thinks that this is exactly when everything will be exposed.

But Dogan signs. He helps them weigh the box into the car. It seems a bit empty to him.

“Didn’t you do anything today?”

The men say they are the replacement car.

You close the vehicle door, say goodbye, and get in. They slowly drive out of the garage. And of that.

After a few kilometers they stop, change the license plate, remove the magnetic foil, load the box into a getaway vehicle and hand the money transporter over to another accomplice.

A little later, the box stands on the floor in front of them in an apartment in Cologne.

New money, says Rodriguez, smells hot off the press, used money smells more sour. These notes smelled used, and there were a lot of them: 1.8 million euros.

Maybe he should have stopped then, says Rodriguez, he had enough money. Among other things, he invested it in a food truck and planned an outlet hardware store. But Rodriguez’s life knows no brakes. He wanted to be a billionaire. “Could have done it,” he says today.

But it didn’t work.

He traveled to Dubai also because he found a therapy center for his daughter there. He sunk the money into dubious gold deals in Dubai. In the summer of 2018, Rodriguez is back where he never wanted to be again: back in Germany and looking for money. What he doesn’t know: He’s being watched closely during this search.

Because relatives of one of his accomplices had committed fraud as “fake police officers,” the police bugged cars belonging to the family. One is driven by someone who has nothing to do with the matter: Asier Rodriguez.

The investigators have been listening in on him for months. They bug two other vehicles and tap into his phone calls.

One evening in October 2018, he says in the car that he had “clarified three things,” three things “from which we earned a total of over three million.” He sounds like he cracked the ATM, “easy and easy”. How the scanner in Gronau simply went “Düüüt”. And how clueless the K K employee was: “The guy pushed it into our car.”

The investigators also hear that Rodriguez has now obtained a Kalashnikov AK-47 and a Tokarev semi-automatic pistol with a caliber of 9 millimeters.

Rodriguez says today that he was under pressure at the time because of the money he had gambled away. It frustrated him that he had to get money again by committing new crimes. He bought the weapons to protect himself in the next coups. You can believe him or not.

Rodriguez admits he lost sight of his code of honor. “I was completely crazy and arrogant. On war mode: all or nothing.” He says: “If you’re heading towards the abyss anyway, you may throw your principles overboard.”

Rodriguez has several goals in his sights in the fall of 2018.

Destination number one: Sparkasse Köln-Ostheim. Rodriguez got in touch with a cleaner who cleans the branch outside of opening hours, has a key to the staff entrance and knows the code to deactivate the alarm system. Rodriguez wants to empty the bank’s lockers. For four days in Hamburg he learned how to open safes and how to copy a key without owning the original in a seminar for locksmiths.

Destination number two: Volksbank Werne. He and an accomplice want to ambush the money delivery person making his delivery in the underground car park.

Destination number three: Sparkasse Kamen. Here too they want to rob a cash-in-transit truck in an underground car park. Their plan: wait until the roller door behind the car closes, block the exit with two cars, watch the handover with an endoscope through a prepared hole, throw a stun grenade through a window at the right moment, then go in, the transporter with a thermal lance weld on.

Destination number four: the cash center of a security company in Stuttgart, where the money that various vans collect during the day is stored. The plan: tear down a wall to the counting room that consists only of plasterboard; overwhelm the employees who are counting the money that has been delivered with fake weapons or sleeping gas; heave boxes of money into getaway vehicles; Depress the accelerator pedal.

If all of this had worked out, Rodriguez would have become a multimillionaire. If the police hadn’t listened.

On December 4, 2018, he and his accomplices were arrested.

Today he is happy about it, says Rodriguez. Who knows what else would have happened in this war mode. The prison noise penetrates muffled through the door of the Willich JVA visitor room. “Everything went as it should. I can’t complain.” Prison? Be the best thing that could have happened to him.

He actually lost everything, not just his friends. His private mistakes became an issue in court. He disappointed his wife and daughter, says Rodriguez. “But for the first time in my life I really woke up. Really awake.” He has decided to do one thing: “To use the time and become someone who can do something other than steal.”

Maybe Rodriguez just knows what to say to sound reformed. Maybe he’s serious. It’s hard to judge something like that when you can only sit in front of a person for a few hours.

His lawyer Andreas Kabut says: “Prison often doesn’t force you to reason. But it worked for him. He wants to take the straight path.” If you ask the Essen public prosecutor’s office whether they believe that a man with such a criminal record will no longer commit a crime, they say: They don’t presume to answer – the course of the execution of the sentence will show whether resocialization is successful . “That remains to be seen.”

Rodriguez is optimistic. On the table in front of him is a gray Brother AX-310 typewriter, which he was allowed to have delivered to prison. “My baby,” he says and smiles. In March, his life story was published as a book (Asier Rodriguez Santos: “The AMG Gang: How I made millions with robberies as the head of one of the most wanted criminal gangs”, Riva, 20 euros). He taught himself to write with countless guides, just as he has already taught himself many things. “This book is the conclusion of my past.” He wants to conquer the book market, he says, and become the next Fitzek. He already has some projects in mind.

How smart does a criminal who has fooled everyone think he is? That’s what stern reporter MATTHIAS BOLSINGER asked himself when he visited Asier Rodriguez in the Willich JVA for several hours. After all, Rodriguez’s coups seemed sophisticated and his preparations seemed highly professional. Bolsinger met a man who repeatedly emphasized that he was not proud of his crimes. And who wants to have realized for himself that it just isn’t smart to risk everything for money. “In that sense,” Rodriguez told Bolsinger, “you’re smarter than me.”

The photographer JASPER WALTER BASTIAN visited a prison for the first time for this research and has rarely been so tense before a photo shoot. He expected to meet an intimidating crime boss in Asier Rodriguez. Instead, he encountered a polite and thoughtful man in Gucci and Balenciaga. Since he was not allowed to enter Rodriguez’s cell due to security precautions, he photographed him in the visitor’s room.