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FBI: Nicknames Help Nab Bank Robbers

DENVER

 

Super Sleuth got 18 months in prison after a bank manager in Colorado Springs recognized his description from three previous bank robberies.

Tom Thumb got 14 years after the FBI and Colorado police alerted the public that a man with a thumb bandage was wanted for bank robbery.

The Shaggy Bandit got 3 years in prison after television spots identified him using his nickname.

Police credit these and other bank robbery arrests to nicknames they give suspects based on surveillance video and witness reports. The nicknames, plus photos, generate publicity that increases the chances of an arrest, officials say.

"The Shaggy Bandit had a goatee like the character in the cartoon `Scooby-Doo,' and we had people calling, telling us they had just seen Shaggy," said FBI agent Phil Niedringhaus.

"The nicknames generate instant media coverage and instant public attention, and it gets quick results," said Niedringhaus, who heads the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force.

Each week, FBI agents sit down with local and state police in Denver to discuss bank robberies and other unsolved crimes that they feel aren't getting enough publicity. They tag leading suspects with monikers to grab the public's attention -- and to add a bit of levity to their own daily grind of crime solving.

The nicknames appear on wanted notices sent to news media outlets. The FBI also posts them on Facebook.

Colorado is one of the top bank robbery states in the nation, averaging 150 robberies each year, the FBI says. It's recorded 140 so far this year. The agency attributes the numbers to a large number of gang members, drug addicts and repeat offenders, as well as a transportation system that facilitates quick exits.

Top states include California, with 154 bank robberies just in the first quarter of this year; Ohio with 74 and Texas with 60, both also first quarter figures.

Niedringhaus said the Denver task force makes arrests in up to 85 percent of cases it investigates, in part because of its public relations work.

The robber dubbed Super Sleuth was later identified as Robert Riforgiate, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to four counts of bank robbery in the Denver area. He wore a Superman T-shirt and casually scouted out his targets before robbing them.

Tom Thumb, later identified as Robert Cole, pleaded guilty to two counts of bank robbery after his nickname and photo were circulated.

The Shaggy Bandit, or Michael Kincade, was arrested in 2009. He pleaded guilty to two counts of bank robbery and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Officers said they adopted the use of nicknames because victims at a robbery often have trouble associating blurry photos from videos on wanted notices with physical descriptions.

Current fugitives include the Wig Out Bandit, who sports a wild Afro and began robbing banks in Denver in August; the Can You Hear Me Now bandit, who uses a cellphone; and the Slim Fast Bandit, who robbed two banks in the Denver area last year.

Their descriptions are on the Colorado Association of Robbery Investigators website.

Denver FBI spokesman Dave Joly said the agency ensures monikers are politically correct: No making fun of race, no violations of copyright, no off-color jokes.

There was a lot of debate over the Slim Fast Bandit, Joly said. But the name stuck because the suspect is, well, slim.

A spokeswoman for Unilever, which owns the Slim Fast brand, declined to comment.

 

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