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Men in big heist may have cop training

The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic

A bank has doubled the reward to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of men who held a bank employee and family hostage in their Chandler home, then took them to a Tempe bank and forced the employee to open the vault.

Federal authorities said Monday afternoon it’s possible the thieves could have a background in law enforcement; they used surveillance to stalk the employee and tactical gear to rob $400,000 from the bank Friday.

John Lewis, the Phoenix FBI special agent in charge, said during a briefing that the robbers appeared to be familiar with security practices.

“They are possibly involved in the military or law enforcement,” Lewis said.

He cited the tactical gear the men dressed in, and surveillance and shackles they used on the employee.

“It would not surprise me,” he said.

Lewis said authorities are looking for help from “anyone who thinks they know someone who may have been involved in this.”

The FBI has received tips since Sunday and is spreading the information nationwide.

The robbery took place in the morning at a Wells Fargo Bank branch in Tempe after thieves shackled two Chandler residents, one of whom is a bank manager, in handcuffs for 12 hours in the couple’s home starting Thursday night.

Before the bank opened, the couple were taken to it and the manager was forced to open the vault with another employee when they arrived for work.

The thieves escaped in a white, silver or light-colored 2001-08 Plymouth or Chrysler minivan, which was photographed on a bank surveillance camera.

In a separate incident Wednesday night, the same thieves held another couple and their young child hostage in that family’s home. Authorities have not named the victims.

One of the people held in that incident was the manager of the Desert Schools Federal Credit Union in Chandler. The plan was scrapped only after the suspects realized they couldn’t pull it off, Lewis said.

The victims of the Tempe robbery were left uninjured but were terrorized inside the bank after the heist, Lewis said.

“These guys cleaned out the vault,” Lewis said.

In a peculiar twist, the thieves took a cell phone from the home of their first victims to call 911 and report the hostage-taking.

Lewis said those 911 tapes could soon be released.

Police and the FBI released descriptions of the thieves: A white male 25 to 35 years old, 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet tall, slender with an athletic build, brown eyes and wearing a wedding ring with a dull gold finish. A white male 25 to 35 years old, also 5 feet 9 to 6 feet tall but with a husky build, weighing 190 to 210 pounds, with short brown hair and a smoker’s cough or one from an illness. A white male with an athletic build may have driven the getaway van, police said.

Two of the robbers wore black tactical-style clothing, including hoods, police said. The third posed as a construction worker by wearing a mustard-yellow hard hat and orange reflective vest.

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