Under the Radar

'Masterminds': What an Army Vet Learned From Some Bad Choices

Masterminds is a comedy movie about a massive armored car heist carried out by some delusional aspiring criminals who aren't as smart as they think they are. It's directed by Jared Hess, who made equally the ridiculous Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. It stars Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and Owen Wilson as the robbers, Jason Sudeikis as the "hitman" brought in to clean up their mess, Kate McKinnon as Zach's fiancée and Leslie Jones as the FBI agent who's out to arrest the crew. How much you enjoy the movie (out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD) depends on how funny you think those actors can be when they're allowed freedom to be as absurd as they please.

Here's the strange part: Masterminds is based on the real-life 1997 Loomis Fargo Heist in Gaston, NC (described in this Charlotte Observer article from 1998) and the lead characters in the movie are named for their real-life counterparts. Zach Galifianakis plays "David Ghantt," the Loomis employee who took the money. U.S. Army veteran David Ghantt really did take the money, got arrested, did his time and put his life back together.

David was on the set while during filming and now he's doing interviews about a movie that takes his big mistake and turned it into a sprawling comedy. He talked to us about the experience, his military service and how he's moved on from his bad choices. Not everything works out the way you planned, and Ghantt offers some insight in how to recover from a mistake.

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What's it like to watch a movie that is, let’s say, so “loosely based” your life?

It's pretty surreal. I mean I'll be honest with you, when I first talked to the producers about it, I thought it was one of my buddies pulling a prank. And then I was sitting at the computer kind of on the phone like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then I did a Google search of who they said they were and was like, “Oh, wow, this guy is real.” It just blows my mind sometimes.

Well, so obviously the movie is a comedy and it's going take some liberties. So if someone watches the film, what percentage of the whole thing do you think is close to true?

It follows the general storyline pretty much and then it takes a hard left turn and goes off into pure Hollywood. Probably the first 30 percent of it is close.

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The real David Ghantt at the "Masterminds" premiere.

Tell us about your military service.

I joined up probably ten months before Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I did my basic training out in Fort Lewis, Washington. Reserves would bring in their people and they did the training rotation and they put on boot camps that year. And that time it was at Fort Lewis.

I was a 67 Romeo, which is an Apache Crew Chief, served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm honorably discharged. I look back on my time in service with fondness. I still keep in touch with one of my old platoon sergeants and a couple of my buddies I went to the training school with. I did most of my time in service at Fort Hood in the 1st Cav and served for almost four years.

After you get out, you have to figure out what to do with the rest of your life. How did you end up working for an armored car company?

When I first got out, I got back home and there wasn’t much, which was one of the reasons I joined the military. There wasn’t much around my hometown as far as work. I moved down to Savannah, Georgia for a while and I was refueling airplanes. I did that for about two years. And eventually came back home and saw an ad in the paper one day for an armored car guard. No experience necessary, yadda, yadda, yadda, good, clean driving record. You know I'm like, I can do that. The next thing you know I was working for Wells Fargo.

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"David Ghantt" gets a buttload of cash in a scene from the movie.

How long were you there before somebody came up with the idea for this heist?

I worked for Wells Fargo, Loomis Fargo for about two years. And the others didn’t approach me until they had it worked out. The whole planning process took about five months. It was kind of a running joke at Loomis. Everybody jokes about about running off with this and that, going to Tahiti because you're around all this money.

There I was, I was working six days a week, I was making about $8.15 an hour. That was top pay there or close to it. It just kind of wore me down.

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For a brief moment, the crew thinks they committed the perfect crime.

Looking back, is there a specific time you can remember where it crossed over from being a joke or an idea to something that was going to happen? Do you feel like it just got away from you or it was just a big decision that it was time to do something?

It kind of got away from me. Kelly had mentioned it and the talks just got more and more serious. And finally reasons only known to me back then, I decided to go through with it.

Did you actually go to Mexico after the robbery? Nobody else came with you?

Yeah, I went to Mexico after the robbery. Went to Cancun. I was down there about almost eight months.

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David Ghantt, under arrest.

There's a very interesting version of why you came back in the movie, but what happened in real life?

Eventually I started jumping around from town to town and I was actually going to do my laundry that morning. I was in Playa del Carmen. There's almost no white people there when the tourist ship is gone. It's all Mexicans. So at that time of the week, it was odd to see other Caucasians in the area. And I was heading out to do my laundry and guy walks up to me and says I'm Mark Rozzi with the FBI and you're under arrest and we're gonna take you back to the states tomorrow. And that’s pretty much how it went down.

How much time did you serve?

I did six years.

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The real Steve Chambers and David Ghantt in handcuffs and orange jumpsuits.

Did you have a trial or did you plead out?

I took a plea. I plead guilty to bank larceny. One of the biggest questions I get from people, shouldn't you have gotten a lot more years? And truthfully, the way the federal guidelines are set up for bank larceny, it’s lower when there's no gun, there's no violence. Then they took into account my prior military service and my clean record and then they can deduct points. After that they figure how much time you're gonna get and Bob's your uncle.

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"David Ghantt" "in disguise" at the airport on the way to Mexico.

There's a great picture of you with Zach Galifianakis on the set of the movie that shows up during the film credits at the end. What was it like being on the set and hanging out with those folks while they're making the film?

With all the stereotypes you have about movie actors and Hollywood people, I was pleasantly surprised to find out Zach and Owen and Kristen were all very, very gracious. I count Jared Hess as a good friend and I was just blown away by this group of people that didn’t really have to be all that nice to me and yet they were.

When Kristen Wiig finished shooting she sent me and my family this huge fruit basket bouquet thing. I was just blown away. And I think one of the greatest things I did get to see, I got to see Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson play their most important role, as a dad. I got to see Owen Wilson playing chase with his son and got to see Zach sitting there in one of the set chairs with his son. That really pulled on my heart strings a bit.

Premiere Of Relativity Media's "Masterminds" - Arrivals

David and Zach at the "Masterminds" premiere.

What's been going on in your life with family and work and how did you put yourself back together after your experience?

Having six years to think about things, you make certain life changes and come to some conclusions and realizations. I just decided that the criminal life was not for me. I haven't got so much as a speeding ticket since I got out. So I better knock on some wood.

I moved down to Florida to make a complete change from my old friends to make sure I could stay out of jail, because a lot of people do go back. Right now, I'm working construction for a little company here in Jacksonville, Florida, and me and my wife are putting together a micro-business, BagItUp.net, and we're just regular, working people trying to get by.

Premiere Of Relativity Media's "Masterminds" - Arrivals

We talk to a lot of veterans about their work. You have definitely a unique experience. Based on what you’ve learned, what advice do you have to young men and women who are getting out of the service about how to make a transition back to civilian life? What have you learned from your experience?

The transition from military life to civilian life is a challenge. You have to change your mindset a bit and realize that if you don’t get up at 4:30 in the morning no one is going to yell at you, you're not gonna have to run 2 1/2 miles in the morning.

The thing that employers look for is that ability to be on-time, you know the whole 15 minutes prior, that goes on in the military and they're going to like your work ethic and your ability to adapt to different situations and to be resourceful when you have to be. When you come out of the military, you're going to be carrying a lot of personal personality traits that are rare these days.

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Kristen Wiig and Zach Galifianakis in "Masterminds."

I'm a southerner, you're a southerner, Zach plays a lot of southern characters. I have a discussion sometimes with people about whether they think he's making fun or it's more out of love for the South. What do you think about his take on southerners?

Well, he's from North Carolina, so he's a southerner too. I think for the movies and stuff he hams it up just a little bit, but you know that’s Hollywood. He wants it to be noticeable. I think he wants people to know that he's southern and he's not ashamed of it.

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