Cornelius Leroy Chase loved cars until he tried to buy the wrong one.
St. Mary's County sheriff's authorities allege that Chase is one of two men who robbed a Leonardtown bank last month and that he then stashed $48,000 in cash in a Bel Alton hotel room in Charles County and used $20,000 to buy two cars. One of the purchases was from a Charles sheriff's officer, who suspected that being paid $12,000 in sequential $50 bills was a bit amiss.
Chase, 43, was arrested Thursday after he was pulled over in Charles County by investigators with the St. Mary's County Bureau of Criminal Investigations. They had been tracking Chase since identifying him as a possible bank robbery suspect, said Sgt. Edward Willenborg with the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office. Authorities are still seeking the other suspect.
Chase is believed to be one of the two men who approached a trio of employees in the parking lot of the Cedar Point Federal Credit Union on Point Lookout Road at 8 a.m. Aug. 21. The men ordered the three, who were preparing to open the bank for the day, into the building at gunpoint and demanded money, Willenborg said.
A fourth employee who was pulling into the parking lot saw the two masked men force the others into the bank and called 911.
Police arrived within three minutes but not before the men ordered the bank manager to open the vault and place several "bricks" of cash, more than $150,000, in a bag supplied by the gunmen. They then fled into a nearby cornfield, Willenborg said.
No shots were fired during the holdup, and no employee was injured.
Authorities later discovered that a vehicle-sized swath had been cleared in the cornfield, leading to the back of the credit union. Someone would have been able to watch bank operations without being noticed, according to the statement in court documents.
Along the route in the field, a brick of $10 bills totaling $10,000 was found, the statement said. Witnesses said a Toyota Cressida sped from the credit union minutes after the robbery.
On Sept. 3, Chase inquired about buying a 1970 Chevelle that a private citizen was trying to sell for $12,000. Chase told the seller that he wanted to buy the car and left a down payment of $2,500 in $50 bills, according to documents in the case.
About four hours later, Chase returned with the rest of the money, $9,500 in $50 bills. The seller, who happened to be a Charles County sheriff's officer, grew suspicious and called sheriff's headquarters to ask whether any bank robberies had taken place.
"I don't think [Chase] knew that the person selling the car was a police officer until after he was booked," Willenborg said.
Soon, authorities began to focus their investigation on Chase, learning, for example, that he had earned less than $6,000 since being released from prison in February, according a statement in support of a search warrant application.
Surveillance was conducted on Chase at his home in the 23000 block of Red Oak Lane in Mechanicsville and at the Lafayette Inn on Route 301 in Bel Alton, where he was staying.
After search warrants were obtained for Chase's car, his home and his hotel room, investigators pulled him over and eventually found nearly $48,000 in cash in his hotel room. A handgun also was found at Chase's home, and Chase owned a 1988 Toyota Cressida, according to the statement.
Investigators then learned that since the bank robbery, Chase had purchased another vehicle and paid for it with more than $8,000 in cash, authorities said.