Employees of often-robbed bank aid search for suspects

January 23, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Employees of the Signet Bank branch in Linthicum are getting good at being robbed.

The bank in the 700 block of Hammonds Ferry Road has been hit at least three times in the past 10 months. Each time, FBI agents and county police have arrested suspects, which surpasses the federal agency's average of 70 percent.

Last week, FBI agents charged Donald Joseph Scallio, 31, of the 3000 block of Freeway Road in Baltimore with the latest robbery at the bank. They said they were led to Scallio by an anonymous tipster who said he recognized a newspaper picture of the suspect.

Agents said a man resembling Scallio walked into the bank just after 11 a.m. Jan. 9, handed a teller a note demanding money, then held a pistol close to his chest. The teller complied, and the man ran out the door.

Agent Hank Hanburger, who helped investigate all three robberies, said the FBI has been working with bank employees since the first robbery but can't discuss specific security measures.

Much of the FBI's success can be credited to the employees, he said. For them, being robbed is getting routine.

Rather than panicking, the employees are noticing facial features, get-away-cars and angles of the security camera. They have become more aware of the camera, noticing if the sun in the windows is washing out the picture or whether the camera is scanning enough of the room and making adjustments. They are getting good pictures and good descriptions.

The bank's employees wouldn't comment on new tactics, but Laurie Hedrick, spokeswoman for Charlotte, N.C-based First Union Banks, which recently took over Signet, said the arrests aren't surprising because their hard work is paying off.

"It just sends an excellent message that if you rob our bank, you're going to get caught," Hedrick said. "Our systems are very sophisticated now, and what we've gotten from the area is great support from police and other folks."

The FBI won't discuss the particular attraction to Signet Bank, but Hanburger said thieves are attracted to banks that are close to city lines and have quick escape routes, such as busy streets. The Signet branch, barely two miles from the Baltimore line and an easy jaunt to the Baltimore Beltway, fits the criteria.

Whether or not a bank is easy to rob doesn't make the robbers any easier to catch, he said.

"Some of them are tough, real tough to catch," Hanburger said. "But some are easy when you get a lucky break -- if someone

gets a tag or license plate. And we'll take all the luck we can get."

FBI agents working with county police first caught two men who robbed the bank in February 1997, while they were drunk and riding bicycles.

John Wayne Newman, 36, and Robert George Pawley, 31, neither with a fixed address, pleaded guilty to one count of robbery each in November.

Newman staggered into the bank demanded money and dropped half of it on his way out, while Pawley kept watch over the bikes, according to court records.

"It was like something out of the Wild West with the guy holding onto the bikes outside -- like it was going to run away or something," Hanburger said.

Police and agents caught Pawley on top a hill near the Baltimore Beltway and then followed the muddy trail of Newman's bike to his home and arrested him there.

In April, the bank was robbed again, by a man holding a gun under his shirt. Police arrested 17-year-old Bruce Wayne Setherley of Baltimore County with the help of a tipster several days later. His case has not come to court.

"Some suspects will target a bank because of its location," Hanburger said. "But there really is no set rule. I wish I had a formula that could predict that."

For now, agents are counting on the employees to keep watch.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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