'Granddad Bandit' suspect arrested after Baton Rouge standoff

At a SunTrust Bank in Richmond.
At a SunTrust Bank in Richmond. (FBI)
By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2010

An hours-long standoff in Baton Rouge ended Wednesday evening with the arrest of a man federal authorities said is the "Granddad Bandit," who is suspected of calmly robbing banks in more than a dozen states, including Virginia.

Michael F. Mara, 52, was charged with bank robbery in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, the FBI said.

The arrest followed a 19-month investigation that frustrated FBI agents and local police. Several bank security cameras had captured clear images of the robber -- a balding middle-aged man who wore no disguise -- but detectives were stumped when they tried to determine his identity.

A break in the case came last week after surveillance photos were flashed across nearly 2,000 digital billboards in more than 40 states. A tipster from Virginia, where Mara has lived, came through with a name and sent FBI agents photos of Mara. The agents knew they had their man, authorities said.

Wednesday morning, agents and local police surrounded a home in Baton Rouge. Authorities said that Mara had a weapon and threatened to harm himself but that sometime between 4 and 4:30 p.m., the standoff ended peacefully.

"We've got him," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Amanda Moran, who is in charge of bank robbery investigations across the country. "It's a great feeling. It was a lot of work for a lot of field officers. The public came out and really helped us."

Moran said Mara is cooperating with investigators and directed them to evidence at the home.

The Granddad Bandit is suspected of robbing 26 banks in 14 states from Florida to Texas to New York. The string of robberies began at a Richmond bank in December 2008 and ended Tuesday at a bank in North Carolina, authorities said. He never robbed banks in the same state twice in a row.

Thousands of banks are robbed each year in the United States, according to the FBI. Last year, there were more than 5,900 such robberies, with nearly $46 million taken. But the Granddad Bandit stood out.

Most robbers try to mask their identity. Take, for instance, the man who wore a burqa when he robbed a TD Bank branch in Silver Spring on Tuesday. Or the guy who donned a Darth Vader mask and flowing robe to hold up a Long Island bank in July.

But the Granddad Bandit appeared unconcerned about showing his face. Apart from the occasional baseball cap, he made no effort to cover his head or face. His thinning hair, wire-rimmed glasses and even his paunch are clearly visible in security camera photos taken in banks.

This robber, authorities said, calmly walked into banks and handed tellers notes demanding a specific amount of money. At first, he wanted $2,000 to $3,000, authorities said, then he upped the amount to $5,000. He took the loot and walked away.

Authorities said they think the man has robbed banks in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas. He struck as far north as New York. He never robbed a bank in the District or Maryland. He never threatened or harmed anyone during a robbery, though court records say he put his hand in his pocket as if he had a gun during the holdup in Richmond.

Early this month, FBI agents, at wits end, decided to expand their public plea for help by using digital billboards usually reserved for the most urgent cases, such as a manhunt for a violent criminal.

The FBI was already on to the suspect when a Charlotte bank was robbed Tuesday. "He walked right in there without a mask like he had no fear in the world," Moran said.

Online court records show Mara was convicted of breaking and entering and grand larceny in Chesapeake, Va., in 1995 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. It is not clear when he was released.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report

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