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Cash and Carried Away

He was already a convicted car thief with a blossoming drug habit when he imagined himself cruising D.C. with a thick wad of cash, buying expensive clothes, partying with friends, but also paying his bills: for his girlfriend, for his three children (ages 5, 1 and 1) by two other women, for his own mother, who had struggled to raise him and his two younger sisters. He hardly saw his father.

After he got out of a Virginia state prison on probation in 2001 for a car theft charge, he tried to go straight, he says. Court records show he worked at McDonald's for three months, but the pay was lousy. He worked two months for a security company, stationed at American Eagle Outfitters in Georgetown. The money was good, but he couldn't get a necessary security license to stay on because of his record.

"The seriousness of what I was doing started to hit me," says a now-imprisoned Calvin Adams, who robbed 17 area banks last year. (Ricky Carioti - The Washington Post)

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Just before leaving the security company, Adams hooked up with a guy named Kenny who knew how to rob banks -- and hopped on the runaway train.

They didn't spend much time casing banks. Any bank that didn't have a police car parked outside could be a target. While Kenny waited in the getaway car, usually a black SUV, Adams would enter the banks. He wore a bulky winter coat, but took no precautions to obscure his identity.

"I'm just not the type of person that likes to run around with masks and gloves and all that on," he says.

He had watched a lot of true-crime television shows and was convinced that all the hype about CSI and forensic evidence is "a lie." He was convinced that the way you get caught is if someone snitches, and who would snitch on Calvin Adams? For the same reason, he was unconcerned that his face might turn up on security camera tapes. You'd have to know him to know he was the robber, and he figured no one who knew him would dime him out.

The robbery train blazed across the calendar:

Jan. 23, Chevy Chase Bank, Beltsville, $583; Jan. 28, SunTrust, Fort Washington, $0.00; Jan. 29, Chevy Chase Bank, Bowie, $1,750; Jan. 31, Bank of America, Silver Spring, $1,150; Feb. 3, Bank of America, Crofton, $2,191; Feb. 6, Bank of America, Annapolis, $400; Feb. 7, Bank of America, Temple Hills, $1,187; Feb. 10, Bank of America, Oxon Hill, $19,564 . . .

That was the biggest score. Adams passed his note, the nervous teller pushed stacks of bills at him. The robber sauntered out.

Then the money began smoking red: dye pack!

A dye pack resembles an ordinary banded stack of bills, but only the top and bottom few bills are real. The center is hollowed out to fit a device that usually has a CO 2 canister, tear gas and red dye. It's activated when the robber crosses an electromagnetic field on his way out of the bank, and it explodes within a pre-programmed number of seconds.

Witnesses saw the red smoke billow from his coat as he crossed the parking lot.

"I was fanning it as I walked," Adams says. "I put the regular money in my pocket and the dye pack in my hand, so the dye pack would be smoking instead of wasting all the money I had just got."

He says most or all of the $19,564 was unstained, though it took several washings to clean his hands.

. . . Feb. 14, Chevy Chase Bank, Fort Washington, $1,427 . . .

After Valentine's Day, Adams took an unusual 11-day break. As he later explained to an FBI agent, his partner, Kenny, had been shot to death in an apartment in Southeast Washington around then. According to an FBI affidavit, Adams "was 'hurting' because of that and therefore did not feel like robbing a bank."

But the train got back on track.

. . . Feb. 25, First Union, District Heights, $460; Feb. 27, SunTrust, Southeast D.C., $1,422; Feb. 28, First Union, Southeast D.C., $400; March 3, First Union, District Heights, $1,920; March 4, First Union, Northeast D.C., $114 . . .

"I may rob one bank, and I don't feel like I got enough to do everything I want to do and [still] have some [money] left, so I'd say, 'Let me try somewhere else real quick and see how this turns out,' " Adams says. "And then if I'm satisfied, okay, cool, I can go ahead home. Just chill for the day, and probably go to the mall, get my kids some outfits, buy my girl[friend's] kids some outfits, give her some money to help pay her bills, stuff like that. Give my mother some money."

At the same time he was spending as much as $1,000 a day on drugs and booze. Weed, PCP, crack, ecstasy, you name it. He was buying fifths of Remy by the case and drinking half of it in one day. Most of his robbery proceeds were going to partying, not to paying his bills.

On March 5 in particular he was feeling the pressures of a breadwinner.

"That day, I wanted to shop," he says. "I remember my baby['s] mother say she wanted to buy a TV because my daughter don't have no TV to watch cartoons, and she need some clothes and some shoes and stuff for school. And my girl[friend] kept crying about she don't pay her bank note they about to snatch her car. She ain't going to be able to get her kids to school anymore."

. . . March 5, BB&T, Camp Springs, $2,267 . . .

That wasn't enough.

. . . 25 minutes later, Columbia Bank, Clinton, $2,547; March 8, First Virginia, Woodbridge, $800; March 11, Bank of America, Northeast D.C., $250; March 11 (22 minutes later), First Union, $0.00 . . .

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