WAYCROSS, Ga. - Employees of a Charlton County bank wept and some called loved ones to say goodbye last year while huddling together in the vault after a Nahunta woman gave them a robbery note threatening to blow up the building.
Former bank teller Susan Taylor Flowers testified that she and her co-workers were terrified and thought they would die in an explosion from a hidden bomb unless they followed the note's instructions to give $50,000 to Rebecca Venson.
Ms. Flowers detailed the May 26, 2005, ordeal at First National Bank South in Folkston as part of a federal sentencing hearing Monday for Ms. Venson, who has pleaded guilty to one count of attempted bank robbery.
Ms. Venson, 30, was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison by Chief U.S. District Judge William Moore. She will have to serve at least 85 percent of the prison term, a little more than two years and seven months, before becoming eligible for release.
After sentencing Ms. Venson, the judge said the case was the first of its kind in his lengthy legal career.
Ms. Flowers, now a stay-at-home mother, identified Ms. Venson in the courtroom as the woman who gave her the robbery note.
Ms. Venson entered the bank shortly after it opened, she testified. Ms. Venson handed her a note saying the bank would be blown up and that Ms. Venson's children were being held hostage and would be killed unless the bank employees complied, Ms. Flowers testified.
The note also contained a convoluted series of instructions for turning over the money, she testified.
"We were all quite shaken," Ms. Flowers said.
"Our loan officer was crying because she had two small children at home. She called her father and said that if anything happened to her, remember that she loved them," Ms. Flowers said.
Ms. Venson fled without the money. No bomb was found. Ms. Venson's only child didn't live with her and was safe, according to FBI agents and Charlton County sheriff's detectives.
No injuries occurred during the attempted holdup. But Ms. Flowers testified that she and her co-workers believed the bomb existed and could be detonated at any moment by Ms. Venson or a hidden accomplice.
The employees had no way of knowing whether the bomb threat was a hoax. They responded properly by treating it as a real threat, FBI Special Agent Tony Alig said after the sentencing.
Ms. Venson was on probation for carrying a concealed weapon at the time, the agent said.
He also said that when Ms. Venson was arrested later that day, investigators found firearms, including high-powered rifles and pistols, and a large amount of ammunition at her Brantley County apartment.
"I haven't seen that many rifles or that much ammunition outside of an armory," Agent Alig said.