By Ernesto Londo¿o and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 12, 2008
To the annals of creative bank heists add this: Two Washington area banks turned over more than $850,000 in less than 24 hours this week to someone who impersonated a cash courier and claimed to be filling in for the regular guys.
On Wednesday, a man dressed as an armored truck employee with the company AT Systems walked into a BB&T bank in Wheaton about 11 a.m., was handed more than $500,000 in cash and walked out, a source familiar with the case said.
It wasn't until the actual AT Systems employees arrived at the bank, at 11501 Georgia Ave., the next day that bank officials realized they'd been had. "When the real security guards showed up is when it became known," said Richard Wolf, a spokesman with the FBI's Baltimore division.
Montgomery County police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said: "The bank employees knew this was not an individual they had dealt with before. The explanation that was provided was that he was a substitute for the regular courier, who was on leave."
And on Thursday, about 9:30 a.m., a man dressed as an employee of the security company Brink's walked into a Wachovia branch in downtown Washington and walked out with more than $350,000.
The man had a badge and a gun holster on his belt, said Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office. He told officials at the bank, at 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, that he was filling in for the regular courier.
About 4 p.m., when the real guard showed up, a bank official told him that someone had picked up the cash, D.C. police said. The guard returned to his office and told a supervisor that he did not make the pickup at the bank. The supervisor called a Wachovia manager, who in turn notified authorities. Police were called nearly 11 hours after the heist.
"It's just an incredibly brazen act," Weierman said.
A law enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said last night that investigators were reviewing surveillance video from the banks in an effort to identify the robber and determine whether the same man committed both heists.
Officials at each bank and with law enforcement declined to describe the security protocols that cash couriers follow. Authorities are investigating whether any rules were violated.
Baur did not say what time Thursday police were notified. Montgomery police issued a news release about the incident late yesterday afternoon. Authorities did not say what steps, if any, they took to put area banks on alert.
Kyle Patterson, chairman of the board of the Independent Armored Car Operators Association, called the scheme almost unheard of.
"It's very rare," he said of successful heists involving people impersonating cash couriers. "In the 10 years we've been doing this, there may have been a couple in the U.S., but not with banks."
He would not say whether the dollar amounts provided in the two cases were unusually high. Patterson said armored security companies have detailed security protocols designed to avoid financial losses.
"My experience has been that we all keep a very close eye on uniforms and company IDs," he said.
Staff writer Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.