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    Prolific robber eludes capture, despite photos

    Officials know what the suspect looks like and the kind of car he drives. But haven't found him yet.

    By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 27, 2002


    TAMPA -- His first heist was at the Bank of America on N Dale Mabry on Feb. 15, 2001.

    The heavyset man showed a teller the silver handgun stashed in his waistband. He fled with some cash, though police won't say how much.

    Since that holdup, the robber has hit 17 banks in Pinellas, Hernando, Hillsborough, Polk and Marion counties, often one a month. Authorities believe he tried to rob two other banks -- most recently in Ocala on Oct. 11 -- but left when tellers made eye contact with him.

    One time, he wore a wig and fake mustache. Another, a NASCAR cap and a bandage on his cheek.

    So far, he has eluded the law.

    "He's almost taken to this bank robbery thing like it's a regular job," said Sgt. Acy Akridge of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Sheriff's agencies, local police and FBI agents are frustrated. So are banks. The Florida Banker's Association is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest.

    Despite having several clear bank surveillance photos of the robber and his getaway car, they have not received any solid leads.

    "We have done so much to figure out who this guy is," said Greg Wittman, an agent based out of the FBI's Tampa office.

    This much is known: he is in his 30s or 40s. He is about 5 feet 8 and weighs about 200 pounds. He carries a silver-colored handgun, usually wears two layers of shirts and often drives from his crimes in a grayish-blue Mercury Sable. He also brings a pouch or a brown tweed bag to the robberies and demands that the tellers place the cash inside.

    So far, no one has been hurt by the robber, but he does threaten people with the gun.

    During an Aug. 15, 2001 robbery at the South Trust Bank in Largo, he laid the gun on the counter during the robbery and pointed it at a person in the parking lot.

    Occasionally, he uses disguises:

    -- At the Provident Bank in Brandon on Oct. 9, 2001, the robber wore a wig and moustache, sunglasses and a blue baseball cap.

    -- At the Bank of America on 9th Street in St. Petersburg on April 17, 2002, he wore a NASCARball cap and an adhesive bandage on his left cheek. He may have been trying to cover up a a mole or blemish on that cheek, authorities said.

    -- During a July heist at a Bank of America in Ocala, he appeared to wear a pageboy-style wig.

    Agent Wittman, who has seen surveillance videos of the robber, says the man is "laid-back" when he approaches a teller.

    "He's organized, very calm," said Wittman. "In some, he's smiling, he's just kind of leaning on the counter."

    In 2001, there were about 226 bank robberies in the FBI's Tampa district, which encompasses most of central Florida. Nationwide, 8,259 banks were the victims of robberies, burglaries or larcenies.

    According to national FBI statistics, most bank robberies occur on a Friday.

    The Bay Area bank robber, however, doesn't have a preference. He has robbed banks on every day of the week.

    His robberies fit another pattern: the majority of the heists happened before noon.

    "I think we're all kind of surprised that someone hasn't come forward with a phone call," said Wittman.

    -- Anyone with information about the robber, his whereabouts or the bank robberies, can call Hillsborough Sheriff's Sgt. Acy Akridge at 247-8670 or Crimestoppers at (813) 247-8200 or Crimestoppers toll-free at 1-800-873-TIPS.

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