In recent years, violent bank robberies have become a cause of concern. According to the FBI, 112 bank robberies have taken place in Houston since Jan. 1, 2013, and an alarming 82 percent were committed by African-Americans.
During a two-month period, 27 African-American men were sent or sentenced to federal prison for their roles in the robberies.
“The FBI is concerned about the level of violence,” said Assistant Special Agent Carlos Barrón. “We’ve seen an uptake in it in the last four months. These are not just ‘note jobs’ anymore, they are getting violent. There are groups of individuals committing these robberies opposed to a lone person walking into a bank.”
Almost half of this year’s robberies were “takeover” bank robberies. They are typically committed by two or more individuals who are usually armed and wearing dark clothes to conceal their identities.
“They will literally take over the bank for a certain period of time during a robbery,” said FBI Special Agent Shauna Dunlap. “The chances of violence are much higher when a weapon is being displayed or pointed.”
Both Barrón and Dunlap said that bank robberies have become more organized in the recent years. Older individuals will often recruit younger males to participate in committing robberies through the promise of “fast money.”
“This organized recruitment is something different than we have ever seen before,” Barrón said. “I think there must be some sense of these individuals looking up to these people for some reason and believing them.”
Dunlap said new recruits are oftentimes “groomed” and “manipulated” into committing violent crimes. Barrón agreed and said it is a misconception that criminals are an unorganized group of men.
One group, for example, exclusively robbed banks located inside grocery stores. The robberies were extensively planned and included several layers of lookouts. The robbers would typically steal a car, and abandon the stolen car after the robbery.
“There are individuals deliberately identifying those in the community that they believe would be susceptible to being a part of a group,” Barrón said. “It doesn’t matter how violent the group has been.”
According to Dunlap, when new recruits commit nonviolent crimes and get away with it they gain confidence. They then recruit more individuals to commit more crimes. “They get the taste for the crime and then go back and recruit more people,” she said.
One group of men recently sent to prison for committed armed bank robberies in Houston planned and executed between 20-30 bank robberies from 2007-2011.
Reginald Mosley, 37, shot an off-duty officer during the group’s last robbery and received the longest prison sentence of 525 months, or nearly 44 years. He was also convicted of conspiracy, three counts of bank robbery and discharging a firearm during commission of a violent crime.
Two men in their twenties were each convicted of one count of conspiracy and will serve the next five years of their lives in federal prison.
Dunlap said many recruits assume that because they are not directly involved in robbing a bank they will get a lesser punishment and can possibly avoid federal prison time.
However, this is not the case. Anyone involved in committing a federal crime, such as a bank robbery, will be charged in a federal court.
“If you have any role in the crime, you will do federal time,” Dunlap said. “You are charged the exact same way.
“Federal time is not like state prison where you can get time off for good behavior. You are going to do most of your federal sentence.”
Dunlap said robbers do not inform new recruits of the dire consequences associated with committing federal crimes. She says they offer a “low-risk, high-reward” scenario, offering the recruits large sums of money without mentioning the consequences.
“It does not pay to commit a bank robbery,” Barrón said. “The amount of money that you will get in the robbery is probably less than the amount of time that you will do in prison.”
“Eventually, you are going to get caught,” he continued. “The FBI will investigate these crimes. We will find these individuals and they are going to go to jail for life.”
“The risks are too high,” Dunlap said. “There is no turning back once you make that one wrong choice.”
The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 6 (December 5, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.
The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/12.05.2013_e-full.