MANATEE — Authorities say two Manatee banks last week fell victim to a convicted bank robber notorious in the Orlando area in the mid-1990s as the “Brown Bag Bandit.”
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives say Michael Derek Johns, 44, resumed his career as a bank robber after 17 years in federal prison by hitting two banks in two days last week.
But it was a short ride for Johns after deputies captured him in a Bradenton motel Monday afternoon. He had been out of prison only six months on bank robbery convictions before the local hold-ups, according to sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.
Authorities also arrested a woman believed to have been with Johns as he picked an unusual way to get to the first of the two robberies, according to Bristow.
Detectives believe Johns and Lori D. Davis, 34, took a taxi March 12 to a SunTrust Bank branch in the 5700 block of 14th Street West. Johns had the driver wait in the parking lot with Davis as he entered the bank, according to Bristow.
Inside the bank, Bristow said Johns implied he had a weapon and ordered a teller to put cash in a bag.
He got back in the taxi, with the driver none the wiser about what he had done, and asked him to drive away, Bristow said.
“The driver didn’t know what he had done and drove away,” Bristow said. “It is certainly unusual.”
The next day, detectives say Johns struck again, presenting a note demanding money to a teller at the First Bank branch in the 400 block of 53rd Avenue West.
Detectives do not know how Johns got to the second robbery or how he escaped, but surveillance video from both banks, Johns’ taxi ride and statements from bank tellers was enough for detectives to obtain arrest warrants for Johns, according to Bristow.
“Once the taxi driver realized what happened, he was very cooperative,” said Bristow. “And bank employees have been able to pick his picture out of photo lineups.”
Davis has not been charged with the robberies, but deputies arrested her on an unrelated warrant on a charge of failing to show in court on a DUI arrest.
“She didn’t enter either of the banks, but we know they were together in the taxi before the first robbery,” Bristow said. “So we want to talk to her about the robberies, too.”
A tip from an acquaintance of the couple told detectives they were staying at the Days Inn in the 3500 block of First Street West, and the tip paid off.
“Sure enough, they were there,” said Bristow. “It is good we caught them. He hit Thursday, then Friday, so it was only a matter of time before he robbed another bank.”
The sheriff’s office is not the only agency investigating Johns. The FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have all been in contact with local detectives because Johns was on federal probation at the time of the recent robberies.
Bristow said Johns has spent as many as 17 years in federal prison on bank robbery charges over the years, and had recently been released from a federal prison in September.
In 1998, a federal judge sentenced Johns to more than 11 years in prison for robbing five banks in two weeks in the Orlando area. It was a crime spree that had the media calling Johns the “Brown Bag Bandit” after he demanded tellers fill a brown paper bag with cash, according to Orlando Sentinel reports at the time.
The 1995 crime spree came to an end when Johns snatched cash from a grocery store cash register in a robbery, not counting on being tackled by a former high school football player employed as a clerk in the store, the Sentinel reported. Johns had to be hospitalized after the encounter, the newspaper reported.