Four People Charged Federally for Bank Robbery Conspiracy Using Hoax Bomb
BIRMINGHAM –Four people involved in a conspiracy to rob a bank by placing a hoax bomb at an elementary school to divert police were in federal court last week after their January indictment was unsealed, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Steven L. Gerido.
A four-count indictment filed Jan. 25 in U.S. District Court charges ZACHARY EDWARDS, 35, RALPHEL MAURIE EDWARDS, 34, QUINESE NICOLE NICHOLS, 30, AND WENDELL ROY NICHOLS JR., 27, all of Birmingham, with conspiring in November to take money from a BBVA Compass Bank in Trussville by “force, violence, and intimidation.” The indictment also charges Zachary Edwards and Quinese Nichols with conspiring on Nov. 16 in Jefferson County to carry a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, that being bank robbery. The indictment further charges Zachary Edwards with two counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm – a Ruger 9mm semi-automatic pistol on Nov. 16, and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun on Nov. 21.
Zachary Edwards was convicted in Jefferson County Circuit Court in April 2000 of assault, first degree, and discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling, according to the indictment.
Zachary and Ralphel Edwards, who lived together but are not related, are both in the Jefferson County Jail on unrelated charges and are scheduled for arraignment in federal court on Thursday. Quinese and Wendell Nichols, who are siblings, turned themselves in to U.S. Marshals Friday and both were released on bond following court hearings.
The defendants carried out the conspiracy as follows, according to the indictment:
In early November, Zachary and Ralphel Edwards and Quinese Nichols discussed plans to rob a bank. Soon thereafter, Zachary and Ralphel Edwards obtained a cardboard box, a stopwatch, strands of wire, gunpowder, Play-Doh and duct tape, which Zachary Edwards used to construct a hoax explosive device. On Nov. 16, Zachary Edwards and Quinese Nichols drove to Magnolia Elementary School in Trussville, where Zachary Edwards placed the hoax device on the hood of a truck in the school’s parking lot. He then called 911 and, while disguising his voice, falsely reported to Trussville Police that he had just seen a Hispanic male place a suspicious package on a vehicle at the school.
Armed with the Ruger pistol, the two then drove to a parking lot near the Compass Bank on Chalkville Mountain Road, which they had visited two days earlier to familiarize themselves with the location. Ralphel Edwards and Wendell Nichols were parked nearby in separate vehicles to serve as lookouts for their co-conspirators.
Zachary Edwards and Quinese Nichols left Trussville without attempting to rob the bank after seeing what they believed to be a police officer close to where they were parked near the bank.
The maximum penalty for the bank robbery conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for conspiracy to possess a firearm during a violent crime is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the maximum penalty for being a felon in possession of a firearm is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The ATF investigated the case in conjunction with Trussville Police and the Alabama State Fire Marshal's Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys William G. Simpson and Michael A. Royster are prosecuting the case.
An indictment contains only charges. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.