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Nuclear power plant worker mastermind of Ben Affleck movie-inspired crime, authorities say

Nuclear power plant worker mastermind of Ben Affleck movie-inspired crime, authorities say

A nuclear power plant worker allegedly inspired by the Ben Affleck movie "The Town" was extradited from Venezuela to the United States late last month to face charges related to the attempted hijacking of an armored car in 2012. But the alleged plot went much further than the film.

Michael Buhrman, a 33-year-old senior reactor operator at the Dresden, Ill., nuclear power plant, recruited Landon Brittain, a colleague at the plant, to participate in the heist, NBC News reports.

According to court documents, Buhrman was wearing an "old man" mask like the ones used by the robbers in "The Town" when he carjacked a woman at gunpoint in the parking lot of a Chicago-area Kohl's in May 2012. A witness, though, followed the car and called police, who arrested Buhrman less than a quarter-mile away. Brittain, who was not arrested, acted as a lookout, authorities now say. The pair were allegedly planning to use the stolen vehicle in the armored car plot.

Buhrman, a U.S. Navy veteran, was released on bond, "but police said they were alerted by a girlfriend that he had access to offshore bank accounts, had purchased $100,000 in gold and intended to flee to Chile," NBC said.

In June 2012, a judge "added conditions to his bail, including a GPS ankle monitor." But three months later, he fled:

Police responded to an alert from the monitor and found it cut off in his Coal City home. An Illinois State Police sergeant testified later that there had been an attempt to make it appear that there had been a break-in and that Buhrman had been forcibly removed. Police also testified that $14,000 that had been deposited into Buhrman’s bank account from a foreign source was withdrawn three days before he disappeared.

Authorities say both Buhrman and Brittain fled to Venezuela, where they "rented an apartment in a luxury high-rise building in Caracas and frequented a nearby gym."

According to Lucas Hixson, a writer who covers the nuclear power industry, the Venezuelan intelligence agency SEBIN soon grew interested in Buhrman and Brittain on suspicions they were conspiring with a Venezuelan man in a money laundering, drug and gun smuggling operation.

Burhman and Brittain were arrested and sent back to the United States. Brittain pleaded not guilty. Burhman, who was tried in absentia after he fled the country, was found guilty of aggravated vehicular hijacking and sentenced to a 40-year prison term. (His lawyer told NBC that he is considering an appeal.)

Not surprisingly, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has banned both men from ever setting foot in a nuclear facility again.

In a letter to Burhman, the commission said it "concluded that your criminal activities related to both the carjacking and the planning of an armored car robbery have demonstrated a lack of trustworthiness."

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