A new movie focuses on a key piece of Youngstown’s history — the “Dinsio Crew,” a team of professional burglars from the area.
The movie called “Finding Steve McQueen” will be in select theaters and on-demand on March 15.
Keith Sharon, a screenwriter for the film, said Amil Dinsio is considered the mastermind of the biggest bank vault burglary in U.S. history.
“Youngstown was the home for Amil Dinsio, who I think legitimately is the LeBron James of bank burglars,” he said.
Dinsio and his Youngstown crew — consisting of his brother, James Dinsio; his nephews Harry and Ronald Barber; and his brother-in-law Charles Mulligan — broke into a safe deposit vault at United California Bank located in Laguna Niguel, California.
It’s whose money they were after that might surprise many, however.
“Jimmy Hoffa had donated money in order to get a pardon. Hoffa was in jail — the Teamsters’ leader — he was in jail for bribery, and he worked it out with Richard Nixon behind the scenes that he would contribute $3 million to Nixon’s re-election campaign, so Nixon took that money and hid it in a bank because you can’t take money from a guy in prison to run for president,” Sharon said. “Hoffa got mad at Nixon. He wanted his money back, so he sent guys from Youngstown to get it.”
Sharon said the opportunity was too much for Dinsio to pass up.
“When he heard about Nixon extorting money on the campaign trail and hiding the money in a little bank in southern California, it was too much for him to resist,” he said.
For Sharon, the idea to turn this into a movie all started in 2003 when he met Harry Barber, Dinsio’s nephew, who was the getaway driver during the heist.
Barber, who now resides in southern California, told Sharon how he got mixed up in a life of crime.
“He moved to southern California in the 1950s, but he got 41 speeding tickets in one year,” Sharon said. “The judge tore up his driver’s license, and his mother punished him by sending him back to Poland, Ohio to live with his grandmother, and that’s where he got a job with Amil.”
The movie, filmed in Dallas, Georgia, was originally going to be called “The Youngstown Boys.” But after Sharon met Barber, he found out that Barber had quite a fascination with movie star Steve McQueen.
That’s where the title of the movie comes from.
Dinsio and his crew weren’t just any burglars. They were smart and precise.
They started with supermarkets and then night drops at banks, where businesses would drop off their money in the night slot.
When it got cold in the winter, they would travel to warmer places for their heists.
“Harry was really adamant to tell me that these were not, as he calls them, ‘weekend warriors.’ They studied alarm systems. They learned how to beat alarms in all situations,” Sharon said.
Sharon recalled one story from Barber about a Sears store in Youngstown.
“He said Amil one day was walking through Sears and didn’t recognize the alarm that was on the wall, and so he dared Harry to rip the alarm off the wall. So Harry did it,” Sharon said. “He stole the burglar alarm and put it in the back of his car, but he couldn’t get the alarm to turn off. So he asked me, ‘Keith, have you ever driven in a car with a burglar alarm going off in the back seat?’ And I said, “I can’t say that I have, Harry.'”
They eventually took the alarm apart and found out how it worked.
Despite their life of crime, Sharon said the group was well-liked around town.
“They were notorious for being kind of good-guy thieves,” he said. “Everybody in town seemed to like them.”
“Finding Steve McQueen” is available at theaters in 10 cities (unknown at this time) around the U.S. as well as on-demand on March 15.
Sharon also has a podcast available, starting Thursday, called “Crime Beat.” It’s a six-part series about how the crew pulled off the bank heist.