More bank robberies, dumber crooks in city A dull breed on drugs sets Baltimore record

December 23, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Back in the bad old days of brazen bank robberies, stickups were carefully crafted by gangs of thieves, marked by precision timing, well-positioned lookouts and tire-burning getaways.

Not anymore.

There's a different breed of stickup men on the streets of Baltimore, which set a record for bank robberies this year. Most of the bank robbers of the '90s are fresh out of prison, hooked on crack and heroin, and not very smart, authorities say.

When Alexander Manigault hit a Signet bank on Belair Road several years ago, he passed a note to a teller that could have come straight from a Woody Allen movie script. "Pook the money the bag," he wrote.

Like most modern-day bank robbers, Manigault was quickly captured.

More banks have been hit in Baltimore than ever before, according to newly released FBI figures. Many were robbed by drug addicts who simply walked in off the street with nothing more than nerve and a note demanding money, court records show.

"Most of these robberies are ill-planned," said Joseph M. O'Hara, supervisor of the FBI's bank robbery squad in Maryland and Delaware. "In Baltimore, bank robbery has always been a crime of choice. But it is a poor choice."

According to the FBI figures and city police, there were 130 bank robberies in Baltimore as of yesterday, breaking the record set in 1993, when 119 banks were hit. At least 60 of the robberies were downtown, and five men are suspected of committing one-third of those.

Among the most popular targets this year: the Signet banks at 1 N. Charles St. and 7 St. Paul St., the NationsBank at 7 N. Calvert St., and the Carrollton Bank at 2 Charles Plaza, court records show.

"Fortunately, most of the robberies involve notes and no weapons," said Lt. Larry Leeson, chief of the Baltimore Police Department's robbery squad.

Although banks in Baltimore are suffering their worst year, suburban bank managers are breathing a little easier. Robbery rates in many counties are coming down after a series of stickups pushed up rates in Montgomery, Baltimore and Prince George's counties last year.

After thieves robbed 94 banks in Baltimore County last year, the Police Department decided to form a task force and double the size of its robbery squad. Police commanders say the moves have helped.

So far in 1996, there have been 70 bank robberies in Baltimore County.

"Once we identify a person, we get them off the street before they take off more banks," said Baltimore County police Maj. Allan Webster, head of the department's criminal division.

In Baltimore, FBI agents and police say the rising rate does not surprise them.

Maryland and Baltimore have a long tradition of high bank robbery rates because so many branch offices are here. Each year, Maryland usually has the fourth- or fifth-highest bank robbery rate in the country, behind California, New York and Florida, according to the FBI.

So far in Maryland this year, 360 robberies have been committed -- 42 more than last year.

Darrick Maynor is one reason for the rise.

On Sept. 24, Maynor was freed from prison after serving a 1 1/2 -year sentence for theft and gun charges. Two days later, he held up the Mercantile bank at 1100 N. Charles St. On Oct. 4, he hit the Carrollton Bank at 2 Charles Plaza.

Maynor, 35, didn't get far. A bank customer and two public safety officers working for the Downtown Partnership chased and caught Maynor. He pleaded guilty to the robberies in federal court and will be sentenced in February.

"It's a stupid crime to commit," said O'Hara, the FBI bank robbery supervisor.

There are plenty of reasons. Bank cameras record the entire robbery. Most tellers keep less than $2,000. Wads of bills contain exploding dye-packs. More than 70 percent of the robbers wind up behind bars. And the sentences are stiff -- up to 20 years without parole.

Defense lawyers say modern-day bank robbers are a desperate bunch.

"Most of the bank robbery clients come in here with serious, serious drug problems. They've got addiction written on the backs of their eyes," said assistant U.S. public defender Ricardo Zwaig. "It's a real pathetic situation. They see bank robberies as easy money. They don't have to hurt anyone. Within a few days, they blow the cash and they're back in the banks."

Most of the men responsible for this year's spate of bank robberies in Baltimore have something in common: They are either not very bright or they are high on drugs when they stick up banks.

Dennis Watts didn't plan very far ahead when he hit the Harbor Bank at 25 W. Fayette St. on March 12.

As he walked outside the bank with a roll of $876, a dye-pack concealed in the cash exploded. Covered in red ink, his eyes burning from tear gas, it wasn't hard for police riding bicycles nearby to spot him.

Watts, 38, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison.

Ronald Lee Gasque also didn't make it hard for police to catch him.

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