Bank holdup trend: kidnapping manager's family

December 31, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,

In recent months, two groups of robbers have launched brazen plots to rob Maryland banks by kidnapping branch managers at their homes and forcing them at gunpoint to lead thieves to the loot.

Both plots - including one last weekend in which a Clinton family was kidnapped - were ultimately foiled by authorities. The two cases in Southern Maryland are among a small run of incidents across the country this year in which robbers kidnap bank employees to gain entry to a bank.

But even as official statistics kept by the FBI show that bank robberies are on the rise this year, the agency doesn't track kidnappings of bank officials in its quarterly statistics because such incidents remain rare, an FBI spokesman said.

According to the FBI, the number of bank robberies nationwide between January and June this year totaled 3,010. For the similar period last year, the FBI recorded 2,830 bank robberies.

"It's been very odd we've had two in the last couple of months," said Special Agent Rich Wolf, a spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore field office.

On Saturday, Maryland State Police arrested two men - Yohannes T. Surafel, 24, of Washington and Yosef Tadele, 23, of Silver Spring - and charged them with kidnapping, assault, conspiracy and weapons violations.

Authorities said three more people, who were still being sought, were involved in holding a Sun Trust Bank manager hostage in her home with her husband and two sons Friday.

On Saturday, a gunman forced the family to drive to the bank. The manager's husband, who was driving, purposely swerved the car on the way, catching the attention of a state trooper, who stopped them and arrested the suspect in the car. A second man was arrested later.

In September, three people committed a similar kidnapping and robbery in the St. Mary's County town of California, authorities say. The robbers learned the bank manager's routine and kidnapped her and her two small children at gunpoint. The robbers stole $169,900 from the bank and fled, but police apprehended three suspects.

One of them, Quinita J. Ennis, 30, of Lexington Park, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to conspiring with her boyfriend and another man in the kidnapping and bank robbery, according to the office of the Maryland U.S. attorney.

"These [kidnap-robberies] are still the exception, not the rule," said E. Dwayne Tatalovich, whose Phoenix, Ariz., firm specializes in bank security.

Tatalovich said most bank robbers are unsophisticated, and few have access to specialized information, such as employee names or addresses, or take the time to do surveillance.

Though rare, Tatalovich said, these types of robberies are difficult to prevent. But he said once a bank is struck with such a plot, "They're going to come up with counter-measures to prevent and mitigate this type of crime in the future," he said.

A spokesman for Sun Trust Bank, whose branch manager was victimized last weekend, declined to comment on new security measures.

"It's certainly something we have processes, procedures and training in place for," said spokesman Mike McCoy. "The safety and security of employees and customers is always our top priority."

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