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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Three Texas Men Plead Guilty To Bank Robbery Conspiracy

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that Roderick Tyree Irvin (28), Christopher Merchant (22), and Hakeem Thomas (26), all of Houston, Texas have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank robbery and bank robbery. They each face a maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison for the conspiracy offense, and up to, 20 years’ imprisonment for the bank robbery offense.

According to court documents, around 3:00 a.m. on July 29, 2021, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office responded to a burglary at the SunTrust Bank located on Memorial Highway in Tampa. Investigators determined that suspects had attached chains to the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) which was part of the SunTrust Bank building, and then attached those chains to a stolen pickup truck. The suspects then used the truck to attempt to pull the protective outer covering off the ATM machine to expose the cash held inside. The defendants were captured on surveillance video by the ATM.

Responding deputies found a stolen Ford pickup truck, with chains still attached to it, abandoned near the damaged ATM. They followed the trail and using a police helicopter, eventually located three suspects – Irvin, Merchant, and Thomas – hiding nearby in a getaway car. The car attempted to flee from deputies but became disabled when it hit a large rock. The three occupants bailed out of the car and ran away but were all arrested following a brief foot pursuit. Clothing items and other materials used in the ATM burglary were recovered from the car and the three suspects.

Around the same time, law enforcement learned of a similar burglary, an hour earlier, of an ATM which was part of the USF Federal Credit Union building located on E. Fletcher Avenue, in Temple Terrace. Like the SunTrust Bank ATM, the USF Credit Union ATM was first attacked by hand using crowbars, and then heavy chains attached to a pickup truck in an attempt to try and break open the cash vault inside the machine. Deputies also learned that the pickup recovered near the SunTrust Bank had been stolen from a Residence Inn hotel located around the corner from the USF Credit Union. The defendants were captured on surveillance video by that ATM as well.

During the arrest of Irvin, Mitchell, and Merchant, deputies located and seized several cellphones. A federal search warrant was executed on these phones and data was extracted and analyzed by the FBI. In addition to placing the three defendants in proximity to these burglaries, cellular records also placed them and other coconspirators at the scene of, or in the area of, multiple other similar ATM burglaries within the Middle District of Florida and elsewhere. The investigation determined that Irvin, Mitchell, and Merchant and his coconspirators would travel around the district and elsewhere, identify, and then target ATMs attached to Bank and Credit Union buildings. Coconspirators would steal a pickup truck near the Bank or Credit Union and attach heavy chains, which would be used to pull the protective outer covering off the ATM to expose the cash inside.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation – Safe Streets Task Force, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Tampa Police Department, and the Temple Terrace Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Craig Gestring.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.

 

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Component(s): 
Updated September 1, 2022