GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The FBI believes that the armed robbery of a money courier in Okemos was an inside job.

After a few short weeks of investigating, the FBI believes that over a million dollars was stolen by a former employee of Empyreal Logistics. He is being accused of robbing himself with the help of his brother and friend in February.

FEB. 15: ROBBERY DAY

According to court documents, on Feb. 15, Paschal Uchendu, 25, of Mason, was driving an unmarked white money courier van for Empyreal Logistics, which he has done since November 2021. The van was equipped with GPS monitoring, 360-degree exterior video surveillance, interior video surveillance and audio recording capabilities.

Uchendu’s shift started that Tuesday by picking up his EL van at the office in Lansing and getting the manifest for the day. After finishing his scheduled route, Uchendu stopped at a Best Buy in Okemos to “purchase a memory card for his personal camera,” court documents show.

While in the parking lot and inside the store, Uchendu can been seen on surveillance video using his cellphone, court document show. During his time inside the store, an older blue Buick Rendezvous and white SUV arrived to the Best Buy parking lot.

Uchendu left the Best Buy and started heading back to Lansing but had to take a different route from usual one due to bridge construction.

Near this area, a man driving the Buick honked his horn and flashed his lights at the van, court documents show. Uchendu later told police that he pulled over the vehicle because he thought he had gotten into a crash.

A few weeks before, he had been involved in a crash and was told by management to only stop in safe areas where other people were around, court documents show.

When Uchendu got out of the van, apparently to inspect the damage, the passenger of the Buick got into the passenger seat of the EL van with an AR-15-style rifle, court documents show. When Uchendu returned, he was told to drive to Okemos Community Church and park the van.

Once parked, the man told Uchendu to open the safe in the back of the van.

The driver of the Buick and passenger, who were wearing masks and hooded sweatshirts with the hoods pulled up over their heads, then loaded the money into the Buick — over $1 million.

During this time, a similar white SUV from the Best Buy arrived and left the church parking lot, court documents show.

When speaking with the FBI, Uchendu said the he thought he was targeted at one of his scheduled pick-ups before the robbery because he didn’t think his friends or family would target him.

INTERVIEW WITH EMPYREAL LOGISTICS

Multiple members of EL’s management were questioned about polices and procedures. Court documents show that drivers are instructed to never pull over a cash-in-transit van in the way that Uchendu did. Drivers should also not have individual code-required access to the vault where the money deposits are held.

Uchendu admitted to law enforcement that he had the code and used it to access the vault during the robbery.

The management also told law enforcement that drivers are trained to use a duress button behind the steering wheel. However, there is no record of the button being activated. Uchendu confirmed with the FBI that he knew about the duress button and was trained to use it but didn’t know what would happen if he activated it.

Uchendu was fired from his job Feb. 15.

POLYGRAPH FAILED

On Feb. 18, Uchendu submitted to a polygraph exam at the FBI location in Lansing.

Before the exam, his iPhone was placed outside the room. FBI agents asked if they could search the phone but Uchendu refused. He was told that a search warrant would be requested and the phone would be seized. He then provided the passcode and placed it in airplane mode to preserve the evidence.

Investigators say that some records of Uchendu’s calls on the day of the robbery had already been deleted. Recovered logs showed he spoke with is brother just before the robbery.

During the prepolygraph exam, he said that he was on his phone with his brother, 20-year-old Stephen Ikechukwu Uchendu of Mason, his girlfriend, and an individual he knows by the alias of “Trap Baby Pack.” He added that he might have spoken with other people but didn’t remember their names.

After the official polygraph, Paschal Uchendu was informed that he failed the exam. Court documents show that he then said he was being framed for the robbery and wanted an attorney.

WHO OWNS THE BUICK?

On Feb. 21, Kent County sheriff’s deputies were sent to Division Avenue SW near 84th Street SE near Byron Center to investigate an abandoned blue/gray 2003 Buick Rendezvous.

While most of the VIN had been removed, deputies found a VIN in the cargo area. The Buick was registered to Todd Lamonte Harris Jr., 20, of Grand Rapids. Court documents show that Harris went to elementary school with Stephen Uchendu.

Later that day, deputies contacted Harris, who said that he sold the vehicle in December 2021 when a man approached him at O’Reilly Auto Parts and offered him $1,500 for it. He said it was going to need a new transmission soon and accepted the offer before taking an Uber home.

When the FBI went to question Harris at his home on Feb. 23, he was not there. Court documents show that agents called him and he said that he left Michigan “a while ago” and is in Atlanta, Georgia. He planned to return in four days and agreed to meet the FBI on Feb. 28.

Roughly 20 minute later, he called back and said that he would be out of town until sometime in March due to a family funeral in Wisconsin. Court documents show that Harris then said he would speak with the FBI at his hotel in Atlanta the next day.

When agents went back to Harris’ house, they spoke with Harris’ stepdad, who said that he hadn’t lived there for over a year. His mother said she remembered him trying to sell his SUV in December and said that his best friend is Andre Delafuente.

Screenshot of the Facetime video between Todd and Tyler Harris.

BRAGGING & SPENDING MONEY

On Feb. 25, Harris’ brother, Tyler Harris, was interviewed in Georgia. He said that he spoke with Todd Harris roughly three days before and said that he was told if he needed money, Todd Harris could give it to him. He then began to brag about buying new clothes and showing Tyler Harris what he estimates to be, $8,000 in cash. Todd Harris then said that he was going to move to Florida with some friends.

During the interview, Tyler Harris was shown photos of the robbers and said that one of the men looked like his brother, court documents show.

Stephen Uchendu was also interviewed in Lansing, where he said that the last time he saw Todd Harris was in the summer of 2001 but that he spoke with him regularly. Phone records show that Harris had traveled to the Lansing area and received a call from Stephen Uchendu on Feb. 15, the day of the robbery.

Harris’ father also told police on Feb. 27 that his son had admitted to him he was involved in the robbery, the court documents say.

‘TJ & DRE’

When FBI investigators searched Paschal Uchendu’s iPhone, they discovered a Snapchat attachment of a map with a pin drop at 839 South Ottillia St. SE, off of Eastern Avenue SE in Grand Rapids. Court documents show that the pin is labeled “Tj & Dre.”

When detectives did a drive-by surveillance of the home, they saw a Kia Optima with a Georgia license plate. A records check showed that it was registered to Desmon Sleet. He has a Michigan driver’s license with the same address as the Ottillia home.

A check of police reports showed Todd Harris and Delafuente had been involved in traffic stop where the vehicle pulled into the address on Ottillia. Police overheard Delafaunte say that he was scared of police and wanted to get home.

In a second interview with Todd Harris’ mother, she positively identified one of the robbers as her son in both the van’s security footage video and photo. She also said that the house on Ottillia was where Delafaunte lived and she had dropped Todd Harris off there previously.

As of March 4, no one has been arrested. In documents dated March 2, FBI was working on getting a search warrant for the electronics inside the house on Ottillia. FBI agents were seen at the property on Wednesday.