Colorado leads in bank robberies in 2021; some blame fentanyl

DENVER (AP) — A few days before Christmas last year, a man and woman entered a KeyBank at 2nd Avenue and Broadway in Denver wearing COVID masks and caps and passed a note to a bank teller: “ Give me all your money and you won’t be hurt.

The cashier, MN, who said she was terrified, handed over a handful of bills, $1,269, along with a secret GPS tracker. The thieves fled in a dark truck.

Last year in Colorado, this scene, including the threatening note and the relatively small hold, occurred nearly 200 times.

In 2021, the Colorado FBI Field Office ranked #1 for bank robberies in the country.

Normally, Colorado has between 110 and 120 bank robberies a year. This number fell to 90 in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Last year, however, it jumped to 195 flights.

“It’s a lot,” said Michael Schneider, special agent in charge of the Denver FBI. “These are violent crimes. … These have a significant impact on the people who work in the banks and even on the customers.

In Denver alone, the number of bank robberies has increased from just 19 in 2020 to 65 in 2021.

A Chase branch on East Colfax Avenue has been robbed four times in 2021, including twice in two days in October. Another bank, a branch of the Huntington Bank on South Broadway, has been hit six times since 2018, according to Denver police.

“Typically, bank robberies are committed by individuals as an act of desperation,” Schneider said.

— Law enforcement blames fentanyl

Law enforcement cites another thing that may be behind the desperation: fentanyl.

In the final months of 2021, investigators arrested four bandits suspected of being responsible for more than 40 combined robberies. Three in four of those suspects have told federal authorities they support fentanyl addictions, Schneider said.

Suspected bandits receive as little as $180 and as much as $6,143 per bank when they pass bills between tellers and demand cash, according to criminal complaints filed in federal court over the past two years.

In Denver, there were more robberies in November and December, including one at a branch of a credit union on Christmas Eve in 2021, the data shows.

— What burglaries look like

Many suspects demand money in increments of 100 or 50. Some threaten cashiers with violence if they use dye packs to color the money or GPS trackers. And they often warn bank clerks, verbally or in their handwritten notes, not to press silent alarms.

Despite threats, many cashiers hand over cash with hidden electronic tracking devices, but experienced thieves sometimes remove them and throw them outside. A thief threw dollar bills in the face of a terrified cashier. Another went to another teller at the same bank and asked for more money. They often drive their own cars to thefts, according to criminal complaints.

About 40% of bank robbers get away with it.

“Out of fear, CS complied with the request and gave the man $865.01 in US dollars in the custody and control of Chase Bank. The man fled the shore in an unknown direction. None weapon was not seen or threatened, but CS said he was ‘scared and panicked inside,’ according to a criminal complaint filed against Owen Calvan King, who is accused of committing seven robberies in the metropolitan area between August 2021 and December 2021.

Thieves rarely rob a single bank. It’s common to see one or two banks get hit in a matter of days by the same suspect. A man, Jordan James Nixon, faces federal charges for robbing 12 banks between November 2021 and January 2022 in Denver, Boulder, Longmont and Westminster. Another man, Joel Knerl, was charged with robbing the same Chase branch twice in two days.

It’s also not uncommon for thieves to serve time in jail or jail for a robbery, then get out and do it again.

Paul Hernandez, also known as the “puff bandit” because he used heavy makeup to cover up facial tattoos, served time on federal charges related to a couple of bank robberies in 2007. his release from prison, he robbed other banks in 2020. He was again arrested and released on bail. Hernandez continued to rob banks. Authorities eventually caught up with him and he accepted a plea deal in January. He is serving time at Buena Vista Correctional Institution.

“The thief entered the bank, approached OC and threw an envelope at him. OC saw that there was a note written on the envelope that OC said, “This is a robbery, give me $20,000 now.” OC paused for a moment and the robber pulled a black and silver handgun from his belt. He pointed the gun at OC, causing her to fear for her life,” a federal criminal complaint against Hernandez said of an August 2020 Westminster robbery. “The robber then said, ‘NOW! OC complied with the thief’s demands and gave him the money from his cash drawer and a secret tracking device. The thief then asked for more money, but OC said that was all she had. The thief took the money and left the bank. The tracking device was later found dumped in a parking lot near the bank.

In this theft, he walked away with $696.

— The four most prolific thieves arrested at the end of 2021

Federal authorities have been warily tracking the number of bank robberies in Colorado, but note that since they pulled four highly prolific actors off the streets late last year, the number has gone down. .

In the last quarter of 2021, there were 78 bank robberies. In the first quarter of this year, there were 44, according to FBI data.

Bank robberies are federal crimes and are generally investigated exclusively by federal authorities. State prosecutors sometimes take cases, however, unless there are multiple thefts by one person or firearms are involved.

Federal prosecutors in Colorado filed 52 counts of unarmed bank robbery and 10 counts of armed bank robbery in 2021, more than in previous years. In 2019, for example, they filed 32 unarmed bank robbery charges.

“We consider them crimes of violence,” said Cole Finegan, U.S. Attorney for Colorado. “If someone walks into a bank with a gun or a note, it terrifies everyone in that bank. Customers and everyone who works there will be traumatized by it – probably for the rest of their lives. »

— The banks don’t want to talk about it

Even though bank robberies have been around since banks have existed, banking companies are notoriously tight-lipped about physical security breaches.

They won’t talk about what they do to prevent theft or protect their employees. They don’t talk about the support they give to employees who have been through it – some cashiers have been through it multiple times. And they prohibit employees from talking about it, even anonymously.

Off the record, a senior executive at a series of Colorado banks said private insurance companies cover cash losses and it’s standard practice to provide counseling to employees who’ve been through one. When asked a follow-up question, he quickly hung up and declined to elaborate. Later, a public relations officer clarified that he would not comment on any bank robbery stories.

The Colorado Bankers Association declined to help on this story or offer people a talk — even in general — about banking security. Wells Fargo declined to comment for this story, as did US Bank and KeyBank.

— Worry more about liability than losing money

Don Coker, an Atlanta banking security expert and consultant who has worked in the banking industry for nearly two decades, said banks are more worried about the safety of their employees and customers than about losing money. .

“The economy, some banks do an analysis and think, well, okay, we’re going to lose money if a robbery happens here, but if somebody gets shot or hurt here, we’ll be responsible for more than the thief will get,” said Coker, who testifies as an expert witness in bank robbery trials. “I think the biggest concern for banks is the liability of an injured person or an employee. It weighs more on their minds than any loss of cash.

FBI officials provide training for bank employees, but some banks prefer not to have armed guards up front because they believe it creates more accountability, especially if there is a confrontation between a guard and a thief.

“It’s a personal decision for each organization and some banks believe it creates additional liability,” Schneider said. “Others don’t want the confrontation to happen inside the bank. Banks are more determined to get the thief out, keep their customers, and keep their employees safe.

Coker said even in the industry, executives don’t openly discuss physical security vulnerabilities.

“I don’t see it or hear about it in industry meetings,” he said. “It’s not much discussed.”

He said the cybersecurity vulnerabilities are much bigger.

“Flights are bad, nobody likes it,” he said. “But they’re kind of like flying gnats in terms of theft from a Chase branch versus a Chase cyberattack… Theft isn’t really going to hit their bottom line. Burglaries cost a few thousand dollars, but cybercriminals make me shudder just thinking about it.

— “Life-Changing Events”

The majority of robberies in Colorado in recent years are what federal law enforcement calls “note jobs,” meaning the suspect passes a note on the desk asking for money.

These notes, however, almost always carry a threat of violence, Schneider said, because suspects usually note that they have a weapon — even if sometimes they don’t show it or don’t actually have one.

“In our conversations with tellers afterwards, these are life-changing events,” Schneider said. “Here they are just trying to work. And as a result of these actions, their lives are sometimes turned upside down.

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