The way Gordon “Grubby” Clark streamlined the process of pouring expandable foam into molds to produce surfboard blanks revolutionized the industry. On the night of March 24, 1972, just a few miles away from Clark Foam’s factory, at the United California Bank’s Laguna Niguel branch, another individual was putting the properties of expandable foam to use while pulling off the biggest bank heist in United States history. His name is Amil Dinsio and, according to the FBI, he’s the most successful bank thief ever.

Dinsio hails from Youngstown, Ohio and prior to the infamous Laguna Niguel bank heist, he and his crew had knocked over an estimated 30 banks back East for an accumulated take of around $20 million. Each job was executed meticulously, with little-to-no evidence to tie Dinsio to the crimes. Dinsio didn’t like pointing guns at people, so he struck during closed hours. Whereas Bodhi and the Dead Presidents never hit the vault, Dinsio only hit the vault.

So what brought Dinsio and his crew to Laguna Niguel and how was surfboard foam used in the bank heist? First a little bit of back story (which you can read about in detail here). According to Orange County Register journalist Keith Sharon, millions of dollars of President Richard Nixon’s dirty campaign money was hidden in the safe deposit boxes of a small bank on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Crown Valley Parkway.

In the early 2000s, Sharon was digging through the Orange County Register’s archive looking for fascinating crimes to follow-up on when a colleague told him about the bank heist. Sharon tracked down Harry Barber, who was Dinsio’s nephew, getaway driver and a former FBI’s “10 Most Wanted” alumni. Sharon offered to buy Barber dinner to learn more about the robbery. Although Barber was reluctant to talk at first, he told Sharon to meet him at a Denny’s in Diamond Bar, CA. It was there that Barber explained the Nixon connection to Sharon.

According to Sharon’s podcast, prior to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, pretty much anything went when it came to politicians grabbing cash from lobbyists. With the deadline looming for this new law, it was a mad dash to extort as much as possible. And President Richard Nixon was game.

One of President Nixon’s cash grabs was from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a powerful union led by Jimmy Hoffa. At the time, Hoffa was four years into a 13-year prison sentence for jury tampering and bribery. Nixon agreed to pardon Hoffa in return for $3 million in cash and the Teamster’s endorsement, one that traditionally went to Democratic Party candidates. Another part of Tricky Dick’s deal was that Hoffa was banned from all union activities for eight years. This really pissed Hoffa off. After walking out of prison in 1971, Hoffa used his mob connections to find out where Nixon was hiding the Teamster’s money. Hoffa then contacted Dinsio to steal it back. Gangster.

Hoffa found out that it wasn’t just the Teamster’s $3 million dollars locked in the vault’s safe deposit boxes of the United California Bank’s Laguna Niguel branch. Allegedly there was a total of $30 million of Nixon’s dirty campaign contributions, including his infamous “Milk Money,” that was stashed in the small bank.

On the night of the heist, Dinsio and his crew poured expandable foam into the bank’s exterior alarm to disable it. On a radio show, Sharon described the foam as the same kind used to repair surfboard dings (how Dinsio was familiar with surfboards or their foam-based properties, the podcast doesn’t say.) Once hardened, the alarm’s clapper was unable to ring. After that, the blast of 16 sticks of dynamite boomed through the night as Dinsio blew the concrete roof off of the bank’s vault. The blast brought no attention to them (yeah, this stretch of coast between Dana Point and Laguna Beach is the epitome of a sleepy beach town.) With a blowtorch, Dinsio melted through the vault’s rebar reinforcements and the crew dropped inside. This was Friday night, which meant no one would be at the bank until Monday morning. The crew spent three nights busting open nearly 500 safe deposit boxes with customized sledgehammers.

Illustration by Ben Waldron
Photo Credit: Waldron

On the following Monday morning, the bank manager found the vault littered with concrete dust, cash, jewelry, bonds, collectibles, urns and ashes. Unlike Dinsio’s previous bank jobs, this one’s getaway was far from clean. A few small mistakes led to their unraveling. Dinsio assumed the President wouldn’t come after them because a detailed investigation of their robbery would only expose Nixon as the crook he so famously denied being. He was wrong.

It’s easy to imagine Dinsio cruising down Crown Valley Parkway days before the heist in the crew’s getaway car, an Oldsmobile 88, with his checklist of supplies in hand–dynamite, blowtorch, sledgehammers, power drill, machine gun and ski masks all crossed off but still needing expandable foam. Then seeing the Clark Foam factory sign on the side of the road and pulling in the parking lot to get that last item on the list before continuing a few miles down the street to case the bank for a few hours.

There’s no sense in spoiling the story. Sharon’s detailed 10-part series, “Stealing Richard Nixon’s Millions”, in which the above information was obtained, is available at ocregister.com. Sharon’s excellent podcast, “Crime Beat”, digs into every fascinating detail of the heist, the people involved and the aftermath. You’re probably thinking, “They should make a movie about this.” They did, but Hollywood butchered it. But that’s beside the point, surfboard foam is incredibly useful in bank heists. Who knew?

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