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Florida case similar to bizarre Erie bank robbery

| Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Investigators were trying to determine today if a device strapped to a bank employee's chest contained explosives, and whether the man was a victim or a participant in a robbery.

Tuesday evening, the man was found in the drive-through lane of the bank where he works in Hollywood, south of Fort Lauderdale in Broward County. A device was strapped to him with duct tape, and he seemed convinced that it was a real bomb, said Capt. Tony Rode, Hollywood police spokesman.

It was not clear how the robbery occurred. Rode said the employee passed a large amount of money to two men he claimed had abducted him at gunpoint from his Dania Beach home and brought him to the Wachovia bank branch in downtown Hollywood.

The employee said the kidnappers wore masks, and he could not describe them to investigators, Rode said.

"The caveat here is for our investigators to conduct a thorough interview of the bank employee to determine if he was truly a victim or an active participant," Rode said Tuesday.

The Broward County sheriff's bomb squad removed the device, then used a robot to blow it up.

"Now we'll analyze whatever debris there is to determine if it's an actual explosive device," sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal said.

Police officials did not return phone messages this morning.

The bank employee was not injured. His name was not released.

The case was reminiscent of a bank robbery in 2003 in which a pizza delivery driver in Erie was found with a bomb attached to homemade collar around his neck.

The pizza delivery man, Brian Wells, told police he had been abducted and forced to rob the bank. State troopers arrested him and called in a bomb squad, but the device exploded, killing Wells, before they could remove it. Federal prosecutors in July said Wells was knowingly involved in the robbery plot, an allegation Wells' family denies.

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