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More crooks sticking-up banks

| Monday, Oct. 7, 2002

Bank robbers - many seeking quick scores to fuel drug habits - have had a banner year in three southwestern Pennsylvania counties, federal authorities say.

Since January, there have been 26 bank robberies in Westmoreland, Fayette and Washington counties, the highest number in a single year in recent memory, said Wells Morrison, supervisory special agent at the FBI's Mon Valley office.

"Twenty-six bank robberies is the most in any one year since I've been here," said Morrison, who began working at the office when it opened in 1990.

In 2001, there were 16 bank robberies in the same three-county area.

The Mon Valley office covers Westmoreland, Fayette, Washington and Greene counties.

Greene County had two bank robberies last year, but has not seen the kind of numbers that surrounding counties have experienced this year, Morrison said.

The FBI, working with state police and various local police departments, made arrests in 16 of this year's robberies, he said.

"We anticipate making arrests in several additional robberies in the near future," Morrison said. Those arrests could bring the number of solved cases to 20.

Last week, a Derry man was indicted in connection with the Sept. 27 robbery of the Southwest Bank office along Route 30 near Latrobe. A second suspect has not yet been apprehended.

On Friday, a lone gunman robbed the Standard Bank in Murrysville.

Bank robbery is a federal and state crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history of the defendant.

Morrison said suspects arrested in 16 of the 26 robberies this year have admitted to drug problems.

"They were motivated by a need for money," he said.

That's part of a national trend.

The U.S. Department of Justice said that in 1998, some 61,000 convicted inmates had committed their offense to get money for drugs.

Among violent crimes, robbery showed the greatest increase - 3. 9 percent - in 2001, according to the FBI.

Professor Mike Rustigan, a criminology expert at San Jose State University in California, said today's bank robbers tend to have drug problems.

"They're not professionals. They're your garden-variety criminal, almost always amateurs," he said. "Bank robbery is too high a risk."

One reason for the nationwide increase in bank robberies: There are simply more banks.

"There are more branches; they're in supermarkets. There is not that big central bank anymore," he said. "There's more opportunity."

And there are more "transient-type drug offenders looking to supply their habits."

Rustigan said attributing the increase in bank robberies to the economy would be a mistake.

"These guys, even in a robust economy, would be robbing banks," he said.

The region this year also saw an increase in serial bank robbers - those who hit three or more banks, Morrison said.

Timothy Green, 37, was indicted by a federal grand jury for three bank robberies in Washington County. One was a bank in the Wal-Mart in South Strabane Township that he allegedly robbed three times.

Corbin Jay Will, 29, of Somerset, was arrested for holding up four banks in Fayette County. Authorities estimated Will had stolen $10,450 from the banks.

Last year, federal authorities arrested two McKeesport brothers, William and Patrick Yednak, for a string of bank robberies in which more than $19,000 was stolen.

But Rustigan said there is no safety in numbers.

"If you're a serial bank robber, you're going to get caught," he said.

Law enforcement agencies have much better communication today and are able to better coordinate their response.

Daniel Edward Barker, 26, the Derry man charged in the Sept. 27 bank robbery in Latrobe, was apprehended the very next day.

Also new to the region this year was a female bank robber who hit Citizens Bank in Charleroi in July.

"We don't have too many female bank robbers," Morrison said.

In fact, just 6 percent of bank robberies nationwide are committed by women, according to FBI statistics.

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