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Police seek bandit in string of bank robberies

Posted by Doris Wong  May 17, 2010 03:36 PM

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By Sarah Thomas, Town Correspondent

Local police and the FBI released information today about the “South Side Bandit,” an individual believed responsible for a string of bank robberies taking place in Newton, Wellesley, and New Hampshire over the last five months.

“Our success rate for catching criminals of this type is very high,” Noreen Gleason, assistant special FBI agent, said at a joint press conference in Newton with local police and city officials. “But the support and assistance of the media and the public will be essential if we are to succeed.”

The Wellesley robbery took place May 1 at the TDBank North on Route 9, when a masked male carrying a firearm entered the bank and demanded money from the tellers.

The first four of the six robberies believed to be the responsibility of the Bandit took place in Newton, all on south side banks close to major arteries out of the city. Next was Bank of America, 235 Needham St, on February 25 at 12:35 p.m. The third robbery was at Century Bank, 31 Boylston St., on April 2 at 10:55 a.m., followed by The Village Bank on 89 Wyman St. on April 26 at 10:27 a.m.

Wellesley's TD Bank at 999 Worcester St. was robbed May 1 at 11:10 a.m., and the most recent robbery was at Ocean Bank in Plaistow, N.H., at 2 p.m. last Friday.

According to the information released, in each incident the bandit entered the banks and brandished a handgun. His face was covered, and witnesses said he was wearing large black gloves and a hooded jacket or sweatshirt. He ordered all customers to the floor, then threatened to shoot tellers if they did not give him all the cash in their drawers. He fled the scene on foot.

“There were no patterns in the banks he chose; the only pattern that stands out is this suspect's high level of violence,” Gleason said after the press conference. “We don't have any information at the moment about any previous crimes he's committed, or even if he's from Newton.”

Citizens with information are asked to call the FBI's Violent Crimes Taskforce at 617-742-5533. A reward of up to $15,000 is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the Bandit and any accomplices he may have, along with an additional $5,000 in reward money from the Massachusetts Bankers Association Tip Program.

In the meantime, officials and police officers in Newton are taking a hard look at the policies in place at local banks for training tellers and bank officers in crisis procedures, and stepping up patrols at banks until the bandit is caught.

“Two weeks ago, my office started meeting with representatives of the FBI, as well as officers at local banks, to examine policies and talk about how to protect people,” said Newton Mayor Setti Warren. “We're going to be discussing how tellers are trained and what banks are doing to prepare for emergencies.”

Currently, security procedures at banks are handled on a corporate basis, and Gleason said she was not aware of any federal standard for crisis response training.

Newton Police Chief Matthew Cummings said the best thing tellers and customers at banks could do was notify police as quickly as possible, as well as take note of a suspect's clothing, in the event of a future incident.

“Any distinctive marks or letters on clothing is helpful, and the quicker we can be on the scene the better,” Cummings said.

He also warned citizens not to attempt to resist in the event of a robbery, for fear of violent reprisal.

“Comply, comply, comply; that's the best thing you can do. We don't want anyone getting hurt,” Cummings said. “Let him have the money. We'll get it back.”

For more information visit boston.fbi.gov.

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