Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Monday, November 4, 2013
Experts: Bank robbery suspect mistakes helped police catch him
Posted: Sunday, September 1, 2013
Taxis don’t make good getaway cars, but they are popular with some bank robbers in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Since 2011, five bank robbers in Bucks and Montgomery counties, including Thursday’s triple bank robbery suspect Luke Radick, used taxicabs in heists, according to police. Most recently, suspect Kyle Wilson, 21, of Upper Dublin, used a cab in March when he allegedly robbed three Montgomery County banks.
The taxi was only one of the mistakes that enabled authorities to quickly identify Radick as a suspect in the robbery attempts in Bensalem and Morrisville. The 26-year-old New Jersey man allegedly ran off with $105 after hitting a Sovereign bank in Yardley between the two attempts, police said.
Bensalem police have speculated the case against Radick will be prosecuted in federal courts since he is on federal parole after serving four years in prison after pleading guilty to a 2009 bank robbery attempt in Stroudsburg, Pa.
Unlike other crimes, bank robbery can be prosecuted in both state and federal courts without risk of double-jeopardy to defendants. Federal bank robbery cases typically result in longer sentences since federal guidelines leave judges with less wiggle room, law enforcement experts said.
Law enforcement authorities say that Radick’s mistakes helped police apprehend him about two hours after his third bank robbery attempt in Morrisville.
Another move authorities say helped them determine early robberies were connected is Radick’s methodology.
At each bank he ordered tellers not to move and demanded “stacks of $100s, $50s, and $20s placed in an envelope,” according to court documents. He also didn’t display a weapon, but each time warned employees to follow his orders and no one would get hurt, according to an affidavit.
Another big boo-boo: Radick’s demand notes. He left two of the three notes behind after running away from the third failed attempt at a Wells Fargo in Morrisville, according to police.
The note he allegedly used in the Yardley heist was found in the backseat of the taxi, court papers said. Police late learned it was written on the back of Radick’s bail release form dated Wednesday. He also left the third demand note behind at the Wells Fargo.
Also there is the “everything you say can and will be used against you” warning that prosecutors could use against Radick, who admitted to news media before he was arraigned Thursday that he committed the robberies.
“I needed the money. Why the (expletive) do you think I did it? The system failed me. I’m not sorry I did it, I’m sorry I got caught,” he said.
Radick’s biggest blunders, though, were not attempting to hide his identity and using the taxi, one former FBI agent and bank robbery expert said
Police say he wore the same gray sweatshirt with a white stripe Thursday that he was photographed in five days earlier when he was arrested by Lower Southampton police on theft-related charges, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Bank surveillance footage of Luke Radick
After the second robbery, Bensalem police, the lead investigating agency, learned Lower Southampton had arrested Radick on Aug. 24. His five-day-old Lower Southampton mug shot matched the surveillance photos taken at all three robbery attempts, court documents said.
Bank robbery suspects who skip masks or other disguises allow high-quality digital surveillance footage commonly used in banks to capture clear photos that can be distributed quickly, authorities say.
Among the dozen bank robberies in Bucks County since January, nine suspects did not attempt to hide their faces beyond the occasional baseball cap during heists; they were all apprehended, unlike the handful of suspects who did cover up during the holdups.
Most do use a disguise, even if it’s just a baseball cap pulled down low, because they know they’re being photographed, said William J. Rehder, a former FBI bank robbery expert, who now works in bank security.
Most robbers are more focused on how much money they can get and how they can get away than whether they will be recognized, Rehder said.
“I can tell you what the mindset going in is. They all believe that they are not going to get caught or they wouldn’t do that in the first place,” Rehder said. “As far as how much care they take in trying to disguise their identity, it depends on the individual. I wouldn’t say it’s a trend away from the disguise.”
As for the use of taxis, well, that is unusual, but not unheard of, Rehder said.
He recalled the youngest bank robber he ever investigated – a 13-year-old Ohio kid in the 1980s – who used a taxi to commit four of the six bank jobs he pulled in Los Angeles. His spree lasted two weeks
The boy got the idea after reading about bank robberies in a magazine during a plane ride to visit his dad, said Rehder, author of “Where the Money Is: True Tales from the Bank Robbery Capital of the World”
Taxi cabs are a big risk for would-be bank robbers, Rehder said. Involving a third-party who is unpredictable adds significant risk to a highly risky crime, he said. After all, the driver might catch on and take off.
The cab driver who drove Radick to the three robbery attempts told police he thought something was strange after the second attempt in Yardley. After each trip, he asked Radick for the cab money, according to police. The driver has fully cooperated with police, authorities said.
But FBI spokesman Ned Conway, who works in the Philadelphia office, said that he doesn’t see the use of taxi cabs as getaway cars as a trend in the Philadelphia area.
“I am aware that has happened in the past,” he said. “I don’t know if there is evidence to suggest that is a trend.”
Police did not identify the name of the taxi cab company involved in the latest robbery spree.
The record for bank robberies in a day by a single person is six, held by Edwin Dodson, considered the most prolific serial bank robber in modern history, according to a former FBI agent who has studied bank robbers for 30 years.
Did You Know?
Two more bank robberies Friday in Blue Bell and Pottstown bring the total since October in Bucks and Montgomery counties to 37.
Did You Know?
Prior to Sept. 11, 2001 most bank robbers were prosecuted in federal courts, but in a post-911 America the feds can’t allocate the same resources while battling terrorism so it's allowed local authorities to handle prosecutions, said former FBI agent and bank robbery expert William J. Rehder. Bank robber suspects who do not use violence or steal a lot of money often are prosecuted in Commonwealth court.