Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bus driver charged with Orono heist

Jul 14, 2010 (Bangor Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --

BANGOR, Maine -- A Greyhound bus driver from Massachusetts charged with robbing an Orono bank on Tuesday is being investigated in connection with 10 other bank robberies around New England, according to the FBI.

Robert Ferguson, 47, of Lowell, Mass., made his first appearance late Wednesday afternoon in federal court. He was taken into custody early Wednesday morning after an employee at the Days Inn on Odlin Road in Bangor called police at 12:18 a.m. to report that a man matching the bank robber's description was staying at the motel.

The bus driver was arrested about 8 a.m. Wednesday and charged with bank robbery after being interviewed by local police and the FBI, according to a court affidavit written by FBI Special Agent James Herbert.

The FBI also is probing 10 robberies involving an unidentified suspect dubbed the "burly bandit," described as a white male with short brown hair in his late 40s or early 50s, approximately 6 feet tall and weighing 250 to 300 pounds.

The burly bandit has worn sunglasses, a wig and a variety of hats, including a straw cowboy hat, during the rash of robberies that have occurred in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire since April, according to the FBI. The most recent burly bandit holdup was at the Ocean Bank in Merrimack, N.H., on July 2.

The FBI in Boston has offered $20,000 reward for information that could lead to his arrest and conviction in connection with the bank robberies throughout New England.

"We're trying to determine if this Orono bank robber has any connection to what we've dubbed the burly bank robberies down here," said FBI Special Agent Gail A. Marcinkiewicz, who is based in Boston.

On Wednesday in Bangor, U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk ordered Ferguson held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail until Monday, when he is due back in U.S. District Court in Bangor for a bail hearing. That hearing might not take place if warrants from other states are issued for Ferguson's arrest.

The defendant appeared shoeless in his stocking feet before the judge on Wednesday. He also was wearing a pair of dark blue nylon shorts and a black T-shirt with a white skull and crossbones emblazoned on the front. Authorities declined to explain why Ferguson was not wearing shoes.

Through his court-appointed attorney, Jon Haddow of Bangor, Ferguson asked that his medication for bipolar disorder be sent to the jail. Kravchuk told the federal marshals who are responsible for transporting Ferguson to the jail to get his medication for him from the belongings seized from his motel room.

Ferguson, who was described to authorities as a regular guest of the motel, reportedly checked in about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. He then took a cab to the U-Haul store in Bangor, according to the affidavit. The same man returned the truck about 3:40 p.m. and took a cab back to the Day's Inn.

A man -- described as being white, 6 feet tall, between 30 and 40 years old, weighing approximately 250 pounds, and wearing a gray T-shirt, bluejeans and a dark baseball cap -- walked into the Bangor Savings Bank branch on Park Street in Orono around 3 p.m. Tuesday.

He went into the office of a customer service representative and said he had a complaint, according to the affidavit. Ferguson allegedly told the woman that he had a two-way radio that was being monitored by a friend outside and that if she did anything wrong "he would start shooting and his friend would come into the bank and also start shooting."

The robber allegedly told the woman to empty out all the teller drawers and handed her a blue nylon bag. After bank employees filled the bag with money from the drawers, Ferguson allegedly took the bag and left on foot, heading down Park Street toward Old Town.

A blue bag containing cash was found in an electrical panel inside the bottom storage area of the bus Ferguson drove from Boston to Bangor, according to the affidavit. Neither the amount of money taken in the robbery nor the amount recovered from the bus was released by authorities.

Several witnesses told police they saw a U-Haul truck parked along the street near the bank. In addition, a man who works for U-Haul and the University of Maine told police he recognized the U-Haul parked on the corner of Rangeley Road and Park Street, which is not far from the bank, as one in the fleet of trucks at the Ban-gor rental store adjacent to the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge. He said he saw the U-Haul on Tuesday afternoon on his way to work at the university, according to the affidavit.

Video surveillance cameras at the U-Haul store show Ferguson wearing a different-colored shirt and "carrying a dark colored bag" when he returned the rented vehicle, according to the affidavit.

Whether Tuesday's robbery is connected to others involving the "burly bandit" was unknown Wednesday, Orono police Capt. Josh Ewing and the FBI's Marcinkiewicz said.

"There was a lot of information coming in that he resembled this burly bank robber," Ewing said.

The motel clerk, witnesses and the hard work of all the law enforcement agencies involved led to Ferguson's swift arrest, according to Ewing.

"We had a lot of great assistance in this case," he said. "This was a really good joint operation with the FBI and Bangor."

Ewing also thanked officers from the University of Maine, Old Town, Veazie, Maine State Police and other local agencies.

The bank robbery in Orono is the second time Bangor Savings Bank has been robbed in the last week. The downtown Bangor branch was robbed on July 6. Matisha Pitts, 25, of Bangor was arrested shortly after leaving the Bangor bank and is being held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail.

If convicted, Ferguson and Pitts face up to 20 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. Both also could be ordered to pay restitution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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