Four Are Arrested In Abduction/Robberies

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Four suspects have now been arrested and charged in a string of kidnap-style robberies at credit unions, banks and check-cashers in which employees of the businesses were abducted, then forced to open their facilities for the crooks.

The suspects are believed to have abducted managers then forced them to open Whitehall CU in May 2003, when they stole $145,000, then Western CU this past July 27, making off with $643,000 in what is believed to be the biggest credit union robbery ever.

By comparison, the average credit union robbery involves about $1,500 to $2,000, according to authorities.

"These were very dangerous people and it could only be a matter of time before somebody got hurt," said Patrick Berarducci, special agent with the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which helped crack the case.

Those charged were: Gary Watkins, 41, the alleged ringleader, and his older brother, Eric Watkins, 42, as well Frankie Lee Jones, 55, and Sheena Bowles, 37.

In the Whitehall CU case, masked men broke into the family home of the branch manager and forced her and her husband and three toddler children at gunpoint to the credit union. There she was forced to open the vault. The manager and her family were then locked in the hallway of the credit union, where they waited until other employees arrived for work later that morning. No one was physically injured.

A similar scenario occurred during the Western CU robbery.

Berarducci attributed the arrests to good street work by ATF and the Columbus Police Department's Robbery Squad. "Our guys really worked this thing hard," he said.

The gang is believed to be responsible for as many as a dozen kidnap robberies in which as much as $1-million was stolen. So far, little of the stolen loot has been recovered.

The gang was also charged with similar kidnap-robberies at Sky Bank, Quick Cash and Cashland check cashing businesses.

Authorities expect more arrests in the case and have kept the $50,000 reward open.

Authorities have not been able to link the case to last week's arrest of a Milwaukee man suspected in a similar spree of kidnap robberies at credit unions and check cashers, according to Berarducci.

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