Police see links in bank thefts

A down economy and a comic-book villain look-alike are to blame for a surge in bank robberies during the first four months of 2009, authorities say.

The latest was Thursday when a man robbed the Wachovia Bank branch at 3430 Wrightsboro Road. He was filmed on surveillance video running from the business when a dye pack, hidden in the money, exploded in his pants.

Police blame that holdup on the troubled economy.

At least three others might be connected to one man, said Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Scott Peebles.

Dubbed the "Scarecrow" because of his resemblance to the masked villain from the recent Batman movies, this one robber is believed to have stolen money from the Georgia Bank and Trust on Walton Way and two local CSRA Federal Credit Unions, Lt. Peebles said.

"We're not saying they absolutely were committed by the same person, but there is the strong possibility that at least a couple of them are connected," Lt. Peebles said.

Thursday's holdup was the fifth in Augusta this year, up one over the same period in 2008.

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he has seen the way tough economic times can affect crime, and he expects to deal with an increase in the months ahead.

"The economy is going to play, for the next 18 months to two years, a major part in the increase in criminal activity," Sheriff Strength said.

"We've seen it before, and we know what a bad economy does to crime," Sheriff Strength said.

Bank robberies have also been frequent in Aiken County, where the Sheriff's Office has beefed up patrols after a series of holdups.

Although police recently arrested three North Augusta men in the April 23 armed robbery of the Bank of America on Martintown Road, authorities say they are still looking for two men believed to be involved in the Wednesday robbery of a Langley bank.

There was also a robbery of the Beech Island Credit Union.

Aiken County sheriff's Capt. Troy Elwell said he doesn't want to put all the blame on the economy.

"These people aren't stealing because they're trying to feed their family," he said. "These people are stealing because they want to steal."

Reach Adam Folk and Stephanie Toone at (706) 724-0851.

BY THE NUMBERS

In April the FBI released data showing holdups on the rise in the last quarter of 2008.

1,358

Bank robberies in July-September 2008

1,617

Robberies October-December 2008, a 19.5 percent increase

465

Robberies in the last quarter of 2008 in which guns were used

75

Robberies in which acts of violence were committed, including 37 assaults and 15 hostage situations

3

Deaths during the robberies. All three were the robbers.

SUSPECT SOUGHT

North Augusta Public Safety detectives have a fourth suspect in the robbery of the Bank of America on April 23.

Anthony M. Martin, also known as "T Money," is wanted on bank robbery and other charges.

Mr. Martin is known to frequent the Atlanta and Snellgrove, Ga., areas. He has been identified as the gunman during this robbery and should be considered dangerous.

-- North Augusta Department of Public Safety

WEAPONS WARNING

NORTH AUGUSTA --- Don't bring a gun to the bank, even if you have a license.

On Monday, two brothers -- one from North Augusta, the other from Atlanta -- learned what can happen if you have guns visible in your car in a bank parking lot.

"Everybody took it for the real deal," Aiken County sheriff's Capt. Troy Elwell said. An anonymous caller reported two men with guns who were about to enter a Bank of America on Edgefield Road.

Police rushed in.

They stopped the men from driving away, got them out and onto the ground, then handcuffed them. Eventually, police learned the guns were legally owned and the two men were simply trying to make a checking account withdrawal.

-- Preston Sparks

QUICK FACT

FBI statistics show most bank robberies occurred on a Friday. Regardless of the day of the week, violations between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. are the most common.