04/01/2002

Alleged Would-Be Robbers Styimed by Bank Closure

Associated Press

LEBANON, Pa. (AP) - Four would-be bank robbers hung around in the parking lot too long and found the bank closed when they tried to hit it, police said.

The Harrisburg men also managed to arouse the suspicions of a customer and wound up in jail facing charges including conspiracy and attempted robbery. They have denied the charges and attributed them to racial profiling.

A customer at the Fredericksburg First National Bank in North Lebanon Township noticed the gray car, in part because it had orange wheels and was parked in a handicapped space, police said.

He also thought there was something strange about the four men staring at the bank, wearing heavy coats and ski caps on a 65-degree day. So, after finishing his banking, he parked nearby to keep an eye on them.

Three of the men wearing ski caps walked to the entrance while the fourth remained in the driver's seat, court documents said. The men tried to open the door of the bank and enter.

Unfortunately for them, it was 12:02 p.m. on a Saturday, and the bank had just closed.

Finding the door locked, the men returned to the car and took off. The man who was watching phoned police and the four were pulled over a short time later - but police found that the car had a different license plate. They found the license plate with the number reported by the bank customer in the trunk.

Also in the car, police found ski masks, cotton hats with eye holes cut out, rubber latex gloves, dark clothing and jackets, screwdrivers, homemade knives and a baseball bat, court documents said.

"With the items they had in the vehicle and the way they were dressed, we believe it was their intent to rob the bank," said Sgt. John P. Leahy of the North Lebanon Township police.

Police would not say if the men were carrying any of the items found in their car when they approached the bank.

Charged were Shawn M. Powell, 19, Kyle Lamont Lutrell, 19, Arthur Lee Forney Jr., 18, and Michael Frazier, 18. All except Frazier have criminal records, Leahy said.

Each is charged with three counts of criminal conspiracy to commit a robbery, and three counts of attempted robbery, among other things. All were taken to Lebanon County prison on $100,000 bail each. A preliminary hearing was set for Friday morning before District Justice Nigel Foundling.

While waiting for arraignment before District Justice Christine Heck, the defendants denied the charges and said they believe they were arrested because they are black.

"Strictly profiling," Forney said. "What heavy coat? I wasn't even wearing a coat."

Powell said the four got lost while driving in Lebanon County and went to the bank to ask directions to the mall.

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