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‘Bold’ robbers striking banks

(Published February 26, 2001)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

Police are looking for four men who have brazenly robbed First Union National Bank branches in the District three times at gunpoint since mid-December, escaping with more than $300,000.

One branch bank, in a shopping plaza at New Hampshire Avenue and Gallatin Street NW, was robbed twice – on Dec. 13 and Jan. 5. The First Union branch located on the campus of Catholic University on Michigan Avenue NE was robbed Feb. 7.

The same group is believed to be responsible for a midday robbery that occurred Feb. 22 at a Bank of America branch on Carroll Avenue in suburban Takoma Park.

So far, no one has been injured during the robberies. But police said all four men have been visibly armed and the robberies have occurred while bank customers were present.

"They’re bold," said Sgt. Charles Houser, who heads the Metropolitan Police Department’s Bank Squad. The squad works with the local Federal Bureau of Investigation office, which has primary responsibility for investigating bank robberies as federal crimes.

What makes this string of bank robberies unusual, Houser said, is the display of handguns and the large amount of money the robbers have obtained in each incident.

"We very rarely have armed (bank) robberies – they usually present a note," Houser said. The typical bank robber in the District escapes with about $2,000 to $5,000, he said, while this group has stolen $40,000 to $170,000. Thirteen bank robberies occurred in the District last year.

Houser said the recent string of robberies has been carried out by one man believed to be in his late 40s or early 50s accompanied by three men in their 20s and 30s.

"Usually, one will enter the bank and engage one of the tellers in conversation, and they wait until a bank employee opens the door to the tellers’ stations, then they pull masks over their heads and pull out their guns," Houser said. One of the four robbers is believed to be waiting in a getaway car while a robbery is in progress.

In the most recent D.C. robbery at the Catholic University branch, which happened just after 1:30 p.m., the four escaped with about $99,000 – $49,000 from an automated teller machine and the rest from the tellers’ stations. Houser said $40,000 was obtained during the Dec. 13 robbery at the First Union branch at 5005 New Hampshire Ave. NW and $170,000 was stolen from the same branch on Jan. 5.

Police reports describe the oldest of the four robbers as being about 5-foot-7 and weighing about 165 pounds, with a medium build, medium black complexion and brown eyes. A police report from the Jan. 5 robbery also described him as having a gray beard. Houser said the man has been described as having "bad teeth." One of the three younger robbers has been described in police reports as being about 5-foot-8 and weighing about 140 pounds. Descriptions of the other men appear to be similarly sketchy, aside from their approximate age. All four have been described as black.

Houser said police generally have maintained an annual closure rate of 80 to 90 percent for bank robberies occurring in the District but acknowledged being "a little behind schedule this time."

"Some take a little longer than others, but inevitably, we catch them all," he said.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator