Convicted bank robber faces new charges

Man is suspected in a dozen holdups

February 23, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

Man jailed to await trial on bank robbery charges As bank robbers go, Craig J. Mills stood out.

He would stun bank tellers by slamming down a heavy object with a loud thud and demand thousands in cash. Then he'd zip off in a getaway car with Maryland tags.

In 1999, he admitted robbing six Washington banks and was sentenced to more than four years in prison. But time behind bars didn't change Mills, authorities said yesterday.

The "Speed Racer" is suspected in a dozen Maryland bank robberies that helped send Howard County crime statistics through the roof last year, according to county and federal authorities.

Mills was arrested again last weekend and appeared in U.S. District Court in Baltimore Tuesday. A magistrate judge ordered him held until trial.

In 2005, Howard County had one bank robbery. Last year, the county had 25 robberies and attempted robberies of banks.

The FBI suspects that Mills committed about a third of those crimes last year, according to court papers.

"This just goes to show you how much of an impact one person can have on crime in this county," Howard County police Capt. Tara Nelson said in January.

Sherry Llewellyn, spokeswoman for county police, said yesterday that the department devoted "significant resources" to solving the holdups.

It took months to connect all of the robberies to one suspect. Mills had been arrested in August and charged in a single robbery. Detectives searched paper motor vehicle records of every car that matched the initial description.

In the end, Mills' distinctive tactics had changed little in eight years, authorities said.

In Maryland, Mills again banged his bag on bank tellers' counters, according to court papers. Federal agents said he also demanded large sums of cash.

And Mills again often used his girlfriend's cars again, ones with the same license plate spotted by witnesses in the Washington bank robberies in 1999, according to authorities.

His lawyer, assistant federal public defender Franklin Draper, did not a return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Federal prosecutors charged Mills by criminal complaint, spelling out the robberies that they think he could be linked to, but not specifically charging him in each case.

An indictment of Mills could provide more details about which robberies prosecutors plan to charge him with, authorities said.

The rash of robberies stretches from April 2005, when First Financial Federal Credit Union was robbed in the Giant Food supermarket on Belair Road.

"The witness noticed this red truck because it was speeding," FBI agent Scott P. Dugas wrote in charging documents.

A man jumped out of the truck, robbed the bank of $3,000 and sped away. Motor vehicle records show that Mills owns a red pickup, Dugas wrote.

On May 9, 2005, a man used similar tactics to try to rob American Bank in a Super Fresh grocery story on North Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Shortly afterward, Hopkins Savings Bank on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville was robbed.

There were three similar robberies in January of last year, all of them in Ellicott City.

A robber struck again in February in Abingdon, in March in Fullerton and in April in Ellicott City.

Federal prosecutors charged Mills with robbing an Owing Mills bank on the morning of June 10. The robbery took place on the same day FBI agents interviewed Mills' girlfriend, Stephanie Y. Hull. She told them that Mills had access to her car while she was at work.

Witnesses at the June 10 bank robbery said the getaway car had license plate FDK-235 or EBK-235. Investigators later learned that Hull's 2002 gold Nissan Maxima had the plate FDK-235.

Mills was ordered to home detention in Baltimore but was allowed to leave for substance abuse treatment and his job, court records show.

In October, the pace of robberies picked up again when five Howard County banks were hit. On Dec. 13, someone with a description similar to Mills robbed another county bank, court papers say.

Investigators might have gotten their break on Jan. 17 at the M&T Bank in the Weis grocery store on Spring Ridge Parkway in Frederick County.

"The robber entered the bank and approached the teller with his right hand inside his coat pocket and slammed his hand down onto the counter with the implication of a gun inside his pocket and demanded $4,000 in cash," Dugas wrote.

When the robber fled, a witness spotted his car - a silver or light-colored Nissan Maxima with a Maryland tag ending in E45. Agents pored over the MVA records and found that the number could be identified and cross-referenced to a car that now has a different license plate - FDK-235 - the tags belonging to Mills' girlfriend.

That was the tag on the Geo Prizm that Mills was driving when he was arrested in 1999 for robbing banks in Washington.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Melissa Harris contributed to this article.

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