Ringleader Jailed In Biggest CURobbery

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - (10/25/05) -- The head of a gang that kidnappedemployees of credit unions, banks and check cashers, then forcedthem to open their businesses so they could rob them, was sentencedFriday to 30 years behind bars. Eric Watkins, 43, of Columbus, wasthe last of five men sentenced for a string of kidnap-stylerobberies in the Columbus area between March 2002 and July24--including the biggest credit union heist ever. The gang wereconvicted of the kidnap-style robbery at Western CU in July 2003,in which they stole $643,000, the most ever taken during a creditunion robbery. A team led by Watkins and his brother Gary Watkinsbroke into the house of a credit union employee the night beforethe heist and told her to cooperate or be killed. She and herdaughters were tied up until 5 am the next morning when the mentook her to the credit union, but she couldn't open the vault. Sothe robbers waited until the employee who could open the vaultreported to work before robbing the credit union. Two otherbrothers involved in the crime spree, Frankie Lee Jones and DarrylJones, cut a deal to testify against the Watkins in exchange forreduced jail time. The gang was also believed to be responsible forthe May 2003 robbery of $145,000 from Whitehall CU, and severalother heists with a total take of more than $1 million.

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