Teller Called Possible Ringleader in Two Bank Thefts

Elizabeth K. Tarke was a teller at the BB& T branch in Wheaton.
Elizabeth K. Tarke was a teller at the BB& T branch in Wheaton. (Montgomery County Police Departm - Montgomery County Police Departm)
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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A brazen swindle in Wheaton last week in which a man walked into a BB&T bank dressed as an armored truck courier and walked out with $574,500 in cash has been linked to a similar bank job the next day in Washington, authorities in Montgomery County said yesterday.

Assistant State's Attorney Marybeth Ayres named Elizabeth K. Tarke, a teller at the BB&T branch, as a possible ringleader. Detectives have linked Tarke with Thursday's theft at a Wachovia branch in the District, Ayres said.

Inside Tarke's home in Olney, detectives found a slip of paper with what appeared to be the Wachovia haul divided among nine conspirators -- coming to about $38,000 each, Ayres said at a bond hearing.

Three of those nine suspects remained at large yesterday, and more than $700,000 was missing.

"Your Honor, this isn't your ordinary theft," Ayres told Maryland District Judge Patricia L. Mitchell during bond reviews for five suspects yesterday.

Although Tarke's background was unclear, three of the defendants -- David P. Mbom, 38, Phillippe H. Ngassa, 46, and Ernest N. Yossa, 43 -- have ties to Cameroon, according to statements at the bond hearing. They and a fifth suspect, Robert T. Tataw, remain held on bonds ranging from $200,000 to $2 million.

A sixth suspect, Edmond K. Machie, 38, was previously released on a $50,000 bond.

Charging documents made public yesterday list details that led to the arrests. Among them: The uniform donned by the fake pickup man was incomplete; an incriminating receipt was left in a wallet; and at one point, in a restaurant in the presence of a government informant, at least five of the conspirators argued about how to divvy up the loot.

Yossa said during the hearing that he is an accountant for a hotel chain. Tataw said he formerly worked as a civil engineer. Ngassa said he has worked as a security guard and a driver for handicapped people. Mbom and Ngassa spoke through a French interpreter.

According to the charging document by Montgomery County police officer Kye Pak, the AT Systems courier who usually picks up cash at the BB&T branch walked into the building Thursday. Employees told him that someone had been in the day before, Pak wrote. The courier checked with his supervisors, who said they had not gotten money from the bank, Pak wrote.

Pak wrote that bank officials called police, who then questioned employees, including Tarke. She and a co-worker told the detective that the man had an AT Systems uniform, a security badge and an ID card around his neck, Pak wrote. Tarke said she was directed to put money in a bag supplied by the man.

Detectives talked to other employees and grew dubious about Tarke's story, Pak wrote. Other employees said they saw no "AT" patch on the man's clothing, just an all-black outfit, with a black hat, gun belt and semiautomatic handgun. They also didn't see a badge, Pak wrote. Bank video corroborated their accounts, according to the charging documents.

Friday evening, detectives went to search Tarke's house. They spotted a man, later identified as Mbom, leaving and getting into a white Ford Explorer driven by Tataw, Pak wrote. Later, officers saw Mbom carry a large duffle bag back to the rear of a Silver Spring residence.

Less than three hours later, an officer saw Tataw carry a bag out of the residence, get into a small Toyota sport-utility vehicle and drive to a Quality Inn in Takoma Park. Detectives searched a room there and found $54,000, according to Pak.

Meanwhile, back at the Silver Spring address, officers watched Mbom leave. They stopped him for a traffic offense, discovered an outstanding warrant linked to a DUI case and took him into custody.

Pak wrote that police discovered a piece of paper in Mbom's coat listing three figures that added up to $574,500, the amount taken from the Wheaton bank. They also found a receipt in his wallet indicating that he had purchased a black combat hat, security badge and a handgun hip holster five days earlier.

According to the charging document and Ayres, an informant told authorities that eight or nine people argued about the disbursement of stolen bank money Friday night in a dining establishment operating illegally out of a Silver Spring apartment. The informant named five of those people as defendants.

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