Youngstown’s own criminal mastermind heading to big screen


story tease

By Justin Dennis

jdennis@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Amil A. Dinsio is reputed to be one of the best and most successful bank burglars in the country.

The FBI deemed the Goshen Township-born mastermind a criminal “genius” and could only speculate how many establishments his crew knocked over across a 30-year-plus career.

“Nobody no better – anywhere,” Amil’s nephew and oft-accomplice Harry Barber told California journalist Keith Sharon, who in 2003 wrote a 10-part series on Dinsio’s biggest heist – the United California Bank in Laguna Niguel in 1972.

“Nobody was doing what we were doing – nobody.”

Barber appears at the top of Sharon’s true-crime podcast series’ first season and is the lead character in the movie “Finding Steve McQueen,” set for release Friday, for which Sharon penned the screenplay.

Both focus on the Dinsio brothers’ infamous burglary of the California bank when they sought to steal President Richard Nixon’s extorted money – all $30 million of it – in the biggest bank heist in U.S. history.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Dinsio’s gang – which Dinsio mostly kept to family and close friends – emptied banks across the country, Sharon said. One FBI estimate figures the Dinsios were responsible for at least 30 heists and a total $20 million in stolen cash.

Amil claims it was more than 100 heists, according to his website, where he hawks his book “Inside the Vault: The True Story of a Master Bank Burglar.”

His last alleged heist in the late 1990s in New York netted him 20 years in prison. He was released last year and declined to comment on this story.

“We studied the alarm systems,” Barber told Sharon. “We studied all these companies that had alarms, and we got to the point where there was not one out there we couldn’t defeat – not one.”

Amil and James also owned a strip mine along South Range Road west of Greenford, the Dinsio Brothers Coal Co. It was also the gang’s safe house.

It was there Harrison and Mahoning County sheriff’s deputies first stumbled on the Dinsios’ burglary ring and about $100,000 in stolen equipment and vehicles. Authorities said the thefts spanned six counties, according to Vindicator archives.

“Investigators said the Dinsio Brothers Coal Co. proved to be a genuine ‘gold mine,’” reads one Vindicator article from May 1962, when a 21-year-old Amil and brothers James, William and Vincent were arrested, along with Barber and another Laguna Niguel burglar, Charles Mulligan.

“[Investigators] said the lumber to build the office had been stolen, the ceiling tile, the furniture and filing cabinets all had been stolen. Investigators said even a water cooler and refrigerator had been stolen, and the refrigerator contained food stolen from Goshen school,” the article continues.

Retired FBI agent Larry Lynch, who spent 25 years in the bureau’s Youngstown branch, was one of several agents who arrested Amil and James Dinsio in Canfield Township after a 1992 burglary in Charlotte, N.C.

“Quite frankly, they were good,” he told The Vindicator. “They were able to bypass alarms with incredible accuracy. And, for the most part, they kept their gang or their crew within their family.

“But on the Laguna Niguel [heist] they made a mistake and brought a couple outsiders in. ... That was kind of their undoing,” Lynch said.

The tip on Dinsios’ biggest score came straight from American history. Jimmy Hoffa, then-president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, wanted to give the most powerful man in the world a black eye, Sharon learned from Barber.

Hoffa, who’d been imprisoned on a bribery conviction, donated $3 million to President Nixon’s re-election campaign and pledged the Teamsters’ political support. In exchange, Nixon commuted his sentence.

But the deal also kept Hoffa from participating in the union – and that didn’t sit well with him. He wanted his $3 million back. So he reached Dinsio’s crew through his connections with the Cleveland mob.

Through Hoffa, Dinsio learned Nixon was amassing campaign funds by extorting American dairy farmers. Nixon promised to raise the price of milk in exchange for large contributions. He put then-Treasury Secretary John Connally in charge of extorting milk producers.

“He knows them well, and he’s used to shaking them down, and maybe he can shake them for a little more,” Nixon is heard in a recording featured on Sharon’s podcast.

Hoffa said he expected the take to be $30 million – too much for Amil Dinsio to pass up. And what could possibly go wrong? It’s not like Nixon could come after Dinsio for stealing his stolen money.

The “Stealing Nixon’s Millions” podcast packages the Laguna Niguel as a crime procedural ripped from Sharon’s headlines.

“Finding Steve McQueen” is a slightly comedic take on the tale, which paints Barber, played by “Vikings” star Travis Fimmel, as the protagonist.

Sharon, who’s set to present the film Friday at a theater in Orange County, Calif., looked back at the past 16 years spent doggedly plotting each angle of the Laguna Niguel story, all of which began with his meeting Barber for lunch. Even after all these years, he excitedly theorizes about all the unexplored nuance to the Dinsio saga.

“It’s amazing that a tiny personal industry has exploded from those early conversations. ... It has been, as I say in the podcast, the most thrilling and soul-crushing experience that you could possibly imagine,” he said.

To listen to Sharon’s podcast, visit the Orange County Register online at OCRegister.com.

Amil Dinsio’s book is available at AmilDinsio.com.

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