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Thief Who Stole $1.6M Bucket of Gold May Have Fled to California: Sources

By  Murray Weiss Aidan Gardiner and Trevor Kapp | December 20, 2016 5:55pm | Updated on December 21, 2016 12:22pm

 The suspect first cased the truck as it parked outside 48 W. 48th St. then robbed it, police said.
The suspect first cased the truck as it parked outside 48 W. 48th St. then robbed it, police said.
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MANHATTAN — The suspect who scampered off with an 86-pound bucket filled with $1.6 million in gold he plucked from the back of a Midtown truck has been deported back to Ecuador four times for similar burglaries dating back to 1994, sources said.

The suspect, Julio Nivelo, 53, was walking past an armored truck making deliveries on West 48th Street near Sixth Avenue when he grabbed the bucket and carried it away about 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, police said.

Nivelo, who also goes by David Vargas and lived in West New York, New Jersey, fled and hadn't been arrested as of Tuesday evening, sources said. The effort to catch him has been dubbed "Operation Lucky Charm," sources said.

IMAGE DESCRIPTION GOES HEREThe effort to catch Julio Nivelo has been dubbed "Operation Lucky Charm," sources said. (NYPD)

Investigators believe that Nivelo went to Los Angeles and has been selling off his loot along the way to finance his travels, sources said.

He now may be trying to get to Ecuador, sources said.

Nivelo has been deported back to the South American country four times for similar crimes in 1994, 2001, 2005 and 2008, sources said.

Nivelo regularly watches watches trucks, waiting for them to go unattended before hopping into the back and grabbing what he can, according to sources.

"He takes anything he gets his hands on. Whatever he could walk away with, he takes," one law enforcement source said.

Investigators are trying to see if he's behind a series of similar truck burglaries in Manhattan, sources said.

"He is a career criminal who seems to feed off trucks and vans in the Midtown area," NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said Wednesday at an unrelated press conference.

Investigators searched his New Jersey home and found some stolen items, but not the bucket of gold.

Boyce said Nivelo may have stopped in Florida before heading out West.