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Michigan on Pace for Record Year for Bank Robberies

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan might set a record for bank robberies this year, thanks not only to several serial bandits but also to first-timers facing unpaid bills and casino losses, the FBI says.

There have been 306 bank robberies in the state in the first nine months of 2004. That's up 15 percent from all of 2003, when 265 Michigan banks were robbed.

Averaging more than one bank robbery a day, Michigan is on pace to have more than 400 by year's end. The record is 356 robberies, set in 1996. That compares with 97 heists statewide in all of 1984.

"People keep robbing banks because that's where the money is," FBI Special Agent Terry Booth told The Detroit News for a Monday story. "They take awful big risks for only a little bit of money."

The average bank robber gets away with less than $2,000. About 70 percent of robberies are solved, Booth said.

About three-quarters of bank robbers are involved with drugs. But a growing number of people, many with no criminal history, are robbing banks to pay off debts, he said.

Banks, citing security concerns, decline to discuss bank robberies in detail. "We are very cognizant of robberies," said Comerica Bank spokeswoman Sara Snyder.

Earlier this month, a Macomb County woman dubbed the "granny bandit" was released after serving 16 months in state prison.

Brenda Bishop, 52, was arrested in 2002 while attempting to rob a bank in Clinton Township. The apartment manager admitted to stealing tenants' rent money and spending it on slot machines at Detroit's Greektown Casino. She said she tried to rob the bank in an effort to cover her losses.

Another Clinton Township resident, Timothy Berner, 33, robbed banks in Brighton and Lansing early this year before killing Sterling Heights police Officer Mark Sawyers in June. Authorities said Berner stole Sawyers' handgun and used it to rob a Georgia bank, then used it to commit suicide July 25 as police closed in on him in Jacksonville, Fla.

Serial robbers being sought by the FBI include a man nicknamed the "stinky bandit" because of his strong body odor. The man has been linked to the robberies of at least seven banks in Macomb County and Detroit, and at least four robberies of a single Charter One bank branch in Harper Woods.

In May, a grandmother with no criminal record was sentenced to six years in prison in Grand Rapids after pleading guilty to robbing two Lansing banks and admitting to 10 other robberies in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Margaret Ann Thomas-Irving, 58, of Hartford, Conn., apparently held up the Lansing banks while visiting her son, an officer with the Bath Township Police Department in Ingham County. She said she committed the crimes to pay off mounting debts.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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