An employee of the $20-million Whitehall Credit Union and her family-including three children ages 2, 4 and 6-were abducted at gunpoint from their home and then taken to the CU, where the employee was forced to give the perpetrators an undetermined amount of money.
The robbers subsequently locked the family in an area of the CU, allowing the robbers to make their escape in the family's 1998 Toyota Sienna black minivan.
The employee and her family may have fallen prey to an alleged gang that has been conducting abduction-robberies at as many as eight different financial institutions in the area. Law enforcement officials are also investigating a possible connection between the WCU incident and similar incidents at two other Midwest credit unions over the last 18 months.
The family was discovered unharmed when other Whitehall Credit Union staff arrived for work later that day. The family's vehicle has been recovered.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) Agent Craig Brenneman told The Credit Union Journal that the ATF, the Columbus Police Department and the FBI were investigating the Whitehall case, as well as eight other cases with similar MOs in Columbus over the last two years. Columbus PD Sgt. Shaun Laird confirmed that Whitehall is the first credit union in this string of abduction-robberies that has included at least one bank and several check-cashing operations.
"We have no leads at all. These guys are wearing gloves and masks the whole time, so they are careful to make sure the victims don't get a good look at them, and we have no latent evidence," Laird said. "They are very professional in what the do, they relay to their victims that they have been watching them, they know the routine. They are very selective in whom they pick. There has never been a time when they have chosen an employee who didn't have access to the location and the money."
The only details Laird could offer about the perpetrators is that they are two black males.
"We want these guys to be caught," said WCU CEO Jeffrey Gardner, who referred all inquiries to the three law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation. "My employees' safety is paramount, and I don't want to impede the investigation in any way."
In addition to the series of similar crimes in Columbus, the Whitehall CU case shows an eerie resemblance to two other abduction-robberies involving female employees of credit unions in the Midwest.
The first case occurred in December 2002 at Jeep Country FCU, where Branch Manager Kathy Scholl was abducted from her home at gunpoint in the middle of the night. In an exclusive interview with The CU Journal, Scholl recounted the events of that night, describing how the robbers stormed her house and tied up her husband and daughter. One gunmen stayed behind to guard the husband and daughter while Scholl was taken to the JCFCU branch and made to hand over an undetermined amount of money.
Scholl was left unharmed in the parking lot of the credit union, and her family was found still tied up but unhurt at home.
Almost a year to the day later, in December 2003, Racine, Wis.-based Educators FCU's VP-Julie Loyo was abducted in the same fashion, with her husband and daughter being tied up and remaining behind at the home with one of the gunmen while Loyo was taken to the credit union and forced to hand over an undetermined amount of money to the perpetrators.
No arrests have been made in either of these cases. The local FBI field offices investigating these cases were alerted to the similarities between them by The Credit Union Journal. Likewise, it was The Journal's investigation into the WCU incident that called Columbus PD and ATF attention to the two similar abduction-robberies at credit unions elsewhere in Ohio and Wisconsin, prompting an investigation into a possible connection among them. Laird said the CPD recently published details of the string of crimes in a national law enforcement publication in hope that other law enforcement agencies that have seen similar cases would contact CPD, but CPD hadn't heard from anyone. "That's why what you're doing is so important," Laird told The CU Journal. "This information is important."
CEO Contacts Investigators
On learning about this third incident at Whitehall CU, Jeep Country CU CEO Judy Buck said she contacted the agent heading up the investigation into Scholl's case. "You have to wonder if it's not the same people," she said. "I understand that they are looking into a possible connection to a gang that is doing this in Columbus."
Like Scholl, Loyo at Educators FCU has returned to work since the abduction-robbery. "It was a very personal decision," she said. "This is my career, and I could face the same risk anywhere. Hopefully (the WCU employee) will get as much support (from her friends, family and co-workers) as I did here. I would tell her that it will hit you when you least suspect it, and when that happens, that's when you need that support."