FBI: Suspects Similar in Tennessee Bank/CU Kidnappings
FBI investigators in Knoxville, Tenn., said it’s possible the suspects who kidnapped a bank employee Tuesday are the same as those who did the same to a credit union executive in April. The criminals invaded the banker’s home, kidnapped him and his family and forced him to rob his own bank, similar to the failed credit union attempt.
“It’s quite possible it’s related,” Ed Reinhold, special agent in charge of the FBI Knoxville office, said during a press conference Tuesday. “There are very strong similarities between the two robberies so we suspect they may be linked. We haven’t determined that positively, but it is a good possibility.”
At around 8 a.m. two white males invaded the home of a SmartBank employee. Reinhold said the suspect hooded and restrained the bank employee and his family, placed them in family’s own vehicle and drove them to the SmartBank branch at 202 Advantage Place.
Although a media spokesperson for the Knoxville FBI declined to identify the employee, the Knoxville News Sentinel identified the employee as Tanner Harris, first vice president and commercial lending officer at SmartBank.
Harris was allegedly instructed by the suspects, reportedly armed with guns, to go inside the bank and retrieve cash while the gunmen held his wife and the couple’s five-month-old son in the car, according to the newspaper.
“The employee did as instructed bringing the money to the robbers who then departed the scene with the family of the bank employee, leaving the bank employee in the parking lot,” Reinhold said. “A short time later, the family was released unharmed around Fox Road and Pipkin (Lane) area.”
This case is similar to one on April 28, when at about 8 a.m. two men and a woman entered the West Knoxville home of Mark Ziegler, president/CEO for the $696 million Y-12 Federal Credit Union.
The suspects kidnapped Ziegler, his wife and their teenage son and demanded that Ziegler go to the credit union and retrieve an undetermined amount of money to secure the release of his family.
When Ziegler took longer than the trio anticipated, the kidnappers abandoned the plan, and at 9:25 a.m. released their hostages unharmed in Knoxville’s Gettysvue Country Club parking lot. They fled the scene without the money.
“We continue to work it (Y-12 FCU case) aggressively,” Reinhold told CU Times. “I’m not going to go into how much we have or don’t have on that.”
About a week after the Y-12 FCU attempted robbery, the FBI released a description of the suspects. The two males were white, one was between five feet, nine inches tall and five feet, 11 inches tall with a thin build. The second suspect was described as five feet, 10 inches tall to six feet with a stocky build.
These suspects in the Y-12 FCU incident closely match the suspects in the SmartBank robbery, according to the FBI.
Although it’s unknown whether a woman was involved in the SmartBank robbery, Reinhold told the local media that there could have been a second vehicle that either followed the suspects or met them when they dropped off the bank employee’s family.
Federal authorities are also investigating a similar case that occurred on June 8 in Memphis, Tenn., when two black males wearing rubber masks, wigs and dark or camouflaged clothing kidnapped an FAA Federal Credit Union employee from her home at 6:20 a.m. and forced her to help them rob it, according to FBI investigators in Memphis.
Before leaving the home, the suspects tied up the employee’s sister leaving her there. Using the employee’s car, the suspects drove to the FAA FCU branch on 8082 Rockcreek Cove and forced her to let them in the credit union to gain access to cash, FBI investigators reported.
After stealing an undetermined amount of money, the suspects drove off in the employee’s car and later abandoned it behind a Kroger Supermarket about 1.6 miles south of the branch.
According the FBI, a red dye pack exploded in the car.
Although no arrests have been made in these cases, the Memphis FBI stepped up its efforts to catch the criminals, announcing on June 17 a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the persons involved in the FAA FCU robbery case.
The FBI declined to identify the FAA FCU employee or her job title.
Reinhold said he does not believe the Knoxville robberies are connected to the Memphis robbery.
What’s more, the FBI is investigating yet another case that occurred in February in Connecticut.
Matthew Yussman, CFO of the $113 million Achieve Financial Credit Union in Berlin, claimed that two men disguised in dark clothing wearing ski masks and goggles, invaded his home that he shared with his mother, strapped a bomb to his chest, and forced him to drive to a credit union branch to steal $1 million.
The home invaders were never found, the bomb turned out to be fake and the credit union’s New Britain branch wasn’t robbed.
In May, Connecticut’s Attorney General turned over the Yussman case to the FBI.
Court documents obtained by CU Times showed Yussman and his mother made unusual statements about the two suspects who occupied their home for more than seven hours. They told police investigators that the home invaders were well spoken and polite, brought Yussman’s mother cookies, lunch meat and juice, and vacuumed the house before leaving to carry out the robbery.
The suspects also initially requested that Yussman steal $4.2 million from the credit union but then settled for $1 million, according to the search warrant documents.