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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Stefano Esposito

Botched 1988 Chicago bank robbery scheme inspires a movie, ‘HEIST 88’

Courtney B. Vance plays Jeremy Horne, a character loosely based on Chicago swindler Armand Moore, in “HEIST 88.” (SHOWTIME)

Armand Moore was a common swindler with an uncommon ability to lure the law-abiding into doing his bidding — tempting them with dreams of owning Rolls-Royces, Rolex watches and lots and lots of cash.

And Moore — known as “The Chairman” — very nearly pulled off the heist of all bank heists in Chicago back in 1988, undone in the end by greed.

His story is the inspiration behind a new movie, “HEIST 88,” premiering Sept. 29 on Paramount+ (with the Showtime add-on) and then Oct. 1 on Showtime.

The filmmakers are eager to point out that the movie’s lead character, played by Courtney B. Vance, was inspired by Moore, but isn’t actually him. And he’s renamed Jeremy Horne in the movie.

“It’s the duality of good and evil — somebody who really believed he was doing the right thing by seducing these young bank employees,” said Lynnette Ramirez, an executive producer on the movie. “So his character was very gray, very morally complex, very complicated.”

The movie was shot entirely in Chicago during summer 2022. There are plenty of shots of looming downtown skyscrapers and scenes filmed inside The Drake Hotel and at arguably the city’s best-known diner, Lou Mitchell’s. The eagle-eyed will recognize the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall Tiffany Dome as a brief stand-in for the interior of a building in Geneva, Switzerland.

In real life, Moore, who spent 30 years in prison and is now 68, was already a convicted Detroit check counterfeiter when he hatched a plan to wire $70 million from First National Bank of Chicago accounts to bogus bank accounts overseas. He’s been called a financial wizard, but he also benefitted from a relatively unsophisticated system of wire transfers — as well as the help of some low-level bank employees.

“The ease of it all sent a collective chill down La Salle Street,” the Chicago Sun-Times wrote at the time.

The money was transferred in just 64 minutes from the Chicago bank on May 13, 1988, to three accounts in two Austrian institutions. The scheme unraveled when Moore and the others tried to spend some of the loot in Chicago on a Jaguar, a Cadillac and other luxury goods. First National became aware of the missing funds several days later after clients received inexplicable overdrafts. All funds were later returned.

A jury convicted Moore in the scheme and he was sentenced to 10 years in the federal penitentiary. It didn’t help that he testified at his trial.

“It was pretty unbelievable in what he testified to. He was trying to claim that he was duped,” said U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber, who presided over the trial and the sentencing.

Leinenweber this week told the Sun-Times that he’s been the judge on hundreds of trials in his 37 years on the bench. He’s never forgotten the Moore case — because of the amount of money involved and the audacity of the crime.

Moore was later handed another 25 years for attempting to escape from jail to pull off an even bigger heist.

U.S. District Court Judge James B. Zagel noted Moore’s extraordinary ability to seduce people who had no previous criminal experience.

“I don’t think you are a criminal genius. I think you have used your skills and ability not as a genius but stupidly. You have essentially wasted opportunities and inflicted significant harm on yourself and other people,” Zagel said at the time.

Armand Moore says he had no input on the movie inspired by the crime he conceived. (Ken Green)

As for Moore, he’s been out of prison for about three years. Thirty years behind bars hasn’t sapped him of any of his bravado. He has a Facebook page in which he is dressed in a white suit and shades, with a big cigar poking out of his mouth. He’s promoting a book about the 1988 heist. He has a public relations director, he said. He’s upset that no one asked for his input while making the Showtime movie.

“These people never even had the decency to offer to take me to McDonald’s and buy me a Big Mac and an order of fries, notwithstanding the fact they are about to make millions,” Moore said.

The movie’s director, Menhaj Huda, said the actual story wasn’t as relevant to him because the ending is very different from how the movie concludes.

“Because Courtney B. Vance was already attached as the lead actor, I had to focus on creating that role and the dynamic between him and the younger actors,” Huda said, speaking to the Sun-Times.

Moore said his life is split between Detroit and Chandler, Arizona.

Does he still live the high life?

“I have a friend of mine who makes a Rolls-Royce available to me. I have a friend of mine who makes a Mercedes Benz S-Class available to me,” he said.

As for those who might think he is nothing more than a common criminal, he said: “People said the same thing about Jesus Christ.”

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