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Armored Car Robber Sentenced

January 21, 1999 GMT

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ An armored car driver who stole a record $18.8 million and fled to Mexico was sentenced to 25 years in prison, even as he insisted he was trying to punish his employer and help the poor.

Philip Johnson, 35, pulled a gun on two Loomis, Fargo & Co. co-workers in 1997 and loaded a van floor-to-ceiling with bags of cash. He drove one of the guards to North Carolina, where he stashed most of the money in a mini-warehouse, and left the co-worker handcuffed to a tree.

Johnson was arrested in Texas five months later after crossing back from Mexico by bus. A border agent who thought he sounded like a liar ran the name he gave through a computer and discovered it was an alias for Johnson.

He pleaded guilty to kidnapping, money laundering and interfering with interstate commerce with violence.

``I didn’t want any more than 1 or 2 million for myself,″ Johnson told U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger at Wednesday’s sentencing.

He said he planned to use 20 percent of the haul to help poor people in Central America and offer 80 percent of the money back to Loomis if it changed the way it treated its employees.

``Their employees are little more than slaves,″ Johnson said. ``There are people risking their lives for $7 an hour.″

Johnson had complained of a life of disappointment before committing the robbery, and had plotted the crime for six years. Most of the money was later found in the mini-warehouse.

Previously, the nation’s biggest armored car heist was $10.8 million, taken in Rochester, N.Y., in 1990.

Johnson’s attorney, Tom Cushman, said: ``He didn’t take the money to have a good time. And I don’t think he had a good time.″