December a Profitable Month for Wash. D.C., Virginia Bank Robbers

By AMANDA LEE MYERS | December 3, 2014

In the last two Decembers in the District of Columbia and northern Virginia, federal authorities have noticed that bank robberies have been booming.

A quarter of all bank robberies in the region occurred in the month of December the past two years, the FBI’s Washington Field Office found. Investigators saw a similar trend the three years before that, though not as high as 2012 and 2013.

Last December, there were 17 bank robberies in the District and northern Virginia, or 24 percent of the 73 committed in the region the entire year.

Four of last year’s 17 December robberies remain unsolved.

Investigators believe the trend can be partially attributed to people who want extra cash during the holidays, Tim Gallagher, special agent in charge of the criminal division at the Washington Field Office, said Friday.

“I think the holidays bring out desperation in a lot of people, and bank robbery is a desperate crime,” Gallagher said.”They feel they’ve reached a point in their lives where they’re desperate for money and they see this as the easiest way to get funds.”

He said one of the biggest concerns with bank robbery is that people who get away with their first one often are left wanting more.

“Some folks may not think it’s a big deal when someone slides a note across a teller counter and walks away with insured money, but this escalates,” he said. “Next time they’re looking for more money, so they’re vaulting the counter and acting in a violent manner, they start bringing guns, they start bringing crews.”

The FBI has teamed up with local police to counteract December bank robberies, including sharing information with banks and the public about the trend, putting more marked police cars outside banks, and helping security directors beef up security.

Among the solved bank robberies from last December include one in Arlington by a crew of three men who had robbed three other banks in the region in a three-month period.

The men were arrested Dec. 31 moments after robbing the Arlington bank. One of the men had been waiting in a getaway car, while the other two had gone inside, ordered everyone on the floor at gunpoint and took cash from the tellers, FBI spokeswoman Lindsay Ram said.

One of the men, Alphonso Stoddard of Forest Heights, Maryland, is now serving three life sentences, partly because of prior armed robbery convictions. James Link of Washington is serving a 35-year sentence in the case, and James McNeal of Hyattsville, Maryland is serving 15 years.

Amy Thoreson, an FBI spokeswoman for the Baltimore Field Office, said Maryland has seen some December spikes but not like the Washington area. That state’s busiest month for bank robberies last year was September, she said.

Ram said the statistics from the Washington Field Office are reflected in national bank robbery statistics kept by the FBI.

(Associated Press writer Juliet Linderman contributed to this report from Baltimore.)

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