Thefts of ATMs net 3-year sentence

Gang broke into Md., Va. machines

October 06, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

One of the bandits charged with cracking into or stealing more than 30 automatic teller machines since 2003 was sentenced yesterday to almost three years in prison.

In U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Charles E. Harrison, 48, of Upper Marlboro to 33 months in prison for conspiring to commit bank larceny. The judge also ordered Harrison to pay restitution of $229,000.

Harrison and five other defendants were indicted March 1, 2006, accused of stealing ATMs in Maryland and Virginia. Court papers filed in the case indicated that the gang lifted or broke into more than 30 machines.

But in his plea agreement, Harrison and his conspirators pleaded guilty to stealing or breaking into fewer machines. On March 11, 2003, they stole $19,000 from an ATM at a Food Lion store in Upper Marlboro, according to the agreement.

They also took $25,000 on April 9, 2003, from the Paceway Convenience Center in Crofton; $30,000 in cash Aug. 18, 2003, from a BB&T Bank in Bowie and $30,000 (including the value of the machine) Feb. 14, 2005, from the Davis General Store in Fairfax Park, Va., according to court papers.

In addition, on July 16, 2003, Harrison and others attempted to steal an ATM from a Bank of America in Woodbridge, Va. Police arrived before the cash machine, which had been pried from its foundation, could be removed. The value of the damaged ATM was $50,000.

Through cooperating witnesses, authorities identified the leader of the saw-wielding gang as Tracy Fletcher, now 30, who was arrested in Virginia in December 2005, charged with conspiracy to commit bank robberies.

The court in Spotsylvania County, Va., ordered Fletcher to stay in his mother's home on electronic monitoring, but he cut off his tracking bracelet and fled, prosecutors said. Agents caught Fletcher again in June 2006 in Tennessee.

ATMs have unusual security protections, including tracking systems and dye packs that coat the cash if the machine is pried open. So the gang's tools included a gas-powered circular saw used to slice into the machines and heavy-duty construction equipment brought in to haul the ATMs off the premises, federal agents wrote in search warrants.

The thieves apparently dressed all in black -- batting gloves, bandanas, windbreakers, pants and ski masks, according to court documents. All of the defendants have pleaded guilty to related charges and been sentenced, with the exception of Fletcher.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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