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    Deputies seek bandit in robbery of 7 banks

    Dubbed a serial bandit, he passes a note to tellers demanding money. No weapon has been seen.

    By TAMARA LUSH and CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001


    Bank tellers from Port Richey to Largo describe him like this: a thirty-something man with a ponytail and facial hair.

    Detectives have another description: serial bandit.

    This man might be responsible for seven bank holdups in Pasco and Pinellas counties in the past 10 days, authorities said Wednesday. Deputies from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, along with officers from New Port Richey, Tarpon Springs and Largo are investigating the robberies.

    The modus operandi has been the same in most of the robberies. The man hands a teller a note demanding money, takes the cash and the note, then flees the building, according to police and sheriff's office records.

    The most recent hit was on Wednesday morning, at the First Union bank in Largo.

    A man entered the bank at 801 West Bay Drive about 10:20 a.m. He stood in line until a teller called him forward. Then he pulled out a note that demanded cash, according to Largo police Lt. Michelle Smith.

    He stuffed the money into the pocket of a T-shirt that he wore under a cut-off sweat shirt. He left with an undisclosed amount of money.

    As with the other robberies, no weapon was seen and no one was injured.

    Largo Police Detective Steve McMullen said the robber in all the holdups has a ponytail.

    "He is very active," McMullen said. "We don't know why he picked (the Largo bank). It's kind of out of the way. He's been on a tear up there" in Pasco County.

    Six other banks were robbed since Feb. 13:

    Union Planters Bank, 9431 U.S. 19 in Port Richey on Tuesday.

    Bank of America, 2123 U.S. 19 in Holiday on Tuesday.

    SouthTrust Bank at 3535 U.S. 19 in Holiday on Thursday, Feb. 15.

    SunTrust Bank at 1424 Seven Springs Blvd. in New Port Richey on Feb. 15.

    AmSouth Bank at 40786 U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs on Feb. 14.

    Republic Bank at 6500 Massachusetts Ave., in New Port Richey on Feb. 13.

    Police in New Port Richey and Tarpon Springs said the man who robbed the banks on Feb. 13 and 14 had a dark, "Fu Manchu"-style mustache -- but bank surveillance photos show he wore a similar plaid shirt as the man in some of the other robberies.

    "Everybody seems to think the mustache is real, but it could have been a fake mustache," said New Port Richey Cpl. Jackie Pehote. "We're just going on the resemblance in the photos."

    Anyone with information about these robberies or the man involved is asked to call their local law enforcement agency. In Largo, call Detective McMullen at 587-6730.

    - Staff writer Katherine Gazella contributed to this report.

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