‘Granddad Bandit’ caputured in La.

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 12, 2010

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The man dubbed the ‘‘Granddad Bandit’’ by the FBI and suspected in 25 bank robberies across 13 states was captured Wednesday at his Baton Rouge home after a lengthy standoff that ended peacefully, authorities said.

Police and FBI agents surrounded the home Wednesday morning and nearly six hours later walked out with a stocky, balding man with graying hair and glasses, who was surrounded by officers and put into a police car.

The FBI identified him to the public for the first time as 52-year-old Michael Francis Mara and arrested him on a warrant charging him with robbing a bank in Richmond, Va.

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Last week, the FBI began posting pictures of the ‘‘Granddad Bandit’’ on billboards across the country, saying he was connected to a string of robberies dating back to a 2008 holdup of a SunTrust Bank in downtown Richmond. U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride in the Eastern District of Virginia credited the billboards with helping catch Mara.

According to an FBI affidavit filed Friday in federal court in Virginia, the FBI received a tip last week from someone who identified Mara as the robber and gave authorities photographs to match to bank surveillance videos.

A hat, eyeglasses and wristwatch were among the items that appeared to be identical between the photographs and surveillance footage, officials said.

The documents say Mara had worked — and may still work — for a vehicle transportation company, giving him the ability to easily travel to other states. Earlier this year, Mara rented a rental car for 52 days and logged 9,669 miles, the affidavit says. During that time, three robberies in three different states were connected to the ‘‘Granddad Bandit.’’

The rest of his background wasn’t immediately known.

Neighbor Gerry Hunt, a 65-year-old retiree who lives next door to the bank robbery suspect, said Mara moved to the pale yellow house with the white trim when he married his schoolteacher wife, Patsy, just over a year ago. Hunt said she didn’t see Mara much because he said he traveled for his job, claiming to work for FEMA on disaster recovery issues.

‘‘We really didn’t know him. (His wife) would always say he was going out of town, and now that I think about it, everywhere he went, banks were robbed,’’ Hunt said, listing trips to Tennessee and Arkansas among those she was told about.

Hunt said Mara acted as though he had a law enforcement background, and she insisted Mara’s wife couldn’t have known about the robberies her husband allegedly committed.

‘‘She absolutely knew nothing,’’ Hunt said. ‘‘I’m sure she’s just as baffled as everyone else is.’’

Officials said Mara would be placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service and appear before a magistrate judge in Baton Rouge before being transferred to Virginia to face the federal charges. If convicted of the Virginia bank robbery, he faces 20 years in prison.

He is believed to have robbed banks all over the eastern and central U.S., including in Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, New York, Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri — but not in Louisiana.

It was unclear if the robber was actually a grandfather. FBI agents said the nickname was devised to help law enforcement and the public easily identify the suspect. ‘‘He just looks like everyone’s granddad,’’ FBI supervisory special agent Amanda Moran said last week.

The ‘‘Granddad Bandit’’ was described as a 45-to-60-year-old white man, about 6 feet tall and 230 pounds, balding with short grayish hair on the sides. He usually wore wire-rimmed glasses, short-sleeved collared shirts and ball caps.

Photos of the robbery suspect on the FBI’s website appeared similar to Mara when he was placed in the police car.

In the robberies, the suspect waited patiently in line and handed the teller a note demanding a specific amount of money. Sometimes, he made gestures indicating he had a weapon, although agents said there was no indication he ever actually used one. Once his demands were met, he exited quietly, fleeing on foot.

‘‘If he was standing behind you in the teller line while you’re waiting for teller service you wouldn’t give him a second look,’’ Moran said. ‘‘He blends well with people, and his look reminds you of the fatherly granddad.’’