BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A man is accused of orchestrating a string of bank robberies, and FBI agents say they have never seen anything like it.
Authorities oftentimes find a gang of people carry out a string of bank robberies. But this time, the FBI believes one 21-year-old man was behind it all. FBI officials say Michael Mitchell robbed three banks himself and then masterminded 22 other bank robberies beginning last April.
Federal prosecutors say news viewers helped lead police to Mitchell after they recognized him in surveillance photos from when he allegedly robbed Key Bank at 2318 Delaware Avenue in October, First Niagara Banks at 529 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo and 801 Main Street in Niagara Falls, during December.
But after that, authorities believe he went from robbing banks to teaching others how to.
“He coached and coerced and literally taught 11 other individuals on how to commit bank robberies,” FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Holly Hubert said.
Those 11 others have already been arrested and all told agents that Michael “Max” Mitchell was involved in some way. And a 12th person was arrested and charged on Thursday. Forty-eight-year-old Sheila Cassata allegedly drove Mitchell to a Key Bank on Amherst Street on December 27, telling her he needed “coin rolls.”
When she was called back to the bank, Cassata told investigators Mitchell told her he needed to leave quickly “because he can’t be caught with a weapon.” She told authorities she knew he had robbed the bank. Mitchell allegedly gave her $100 for “driving him around.”
Mitchell himself was arrested late Wednesday morning at East Lovejoy and Ideal in Buffalo near the Key Bank there, which was cleared as a safety precaution.
Hubert said, “At the time of his arrest, Mitchell was actually planning another robbery, which we were able to prevent.”
Multiple state, federal and local agencies, stretching all the way to Rochester worked this unusual case. The FBI says during each robbery, the notes, threats, and locations were all similar; the robbers didn’t try to cover themselves up; and each carried out the robberies during the day.
Agents say these arrests may slow down the high rate of bank robberies in Western New York this year.
Hubert said, “I think the number of bank robberies remained steady up until yesterday when he was arrested. I expect that going forward, the number of bank robberies certainly in Buffalo and the surrounding areas will go down.”
“We certainly sympathize with any members of the public or innocent members of a business who are put in such a place by defendants who threaten them with weapons, and we will leave no stone unturned until all such perpetrators are brought to justice,” said U.S. Attorney William Hochul.
The penalty for bank robbery is a maximum of 20 years in prison and possibly a $250,000 fine.