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Buffalo Man Charged with Robbing Lackawanna, Buffalo and Falls Banks; Could Top Dillinger's Record of 24

Michael “Max” Mitchell, 21, of Buffalo is suspected of holding up 26 banks over the last eight months.
Stills from a security camera showing the robber. Courtesy WIVB.

A .45-caliber chrome pistol-toting man, suspected of being the ringleader behind 26 bank holdups with 13 different robbers over the last eight months is off the streets.

Michael "Max" Mitchell, 21, of Buffalo, was arrested on Ideal Street near East Lovejoy by Buffalo Police and Erie County Sheriff's deputies on Jan. 15.

Mitchell is suspected in the January holdup of the First Niagara Bank in Lackawanna, a robbery first reported in this publication.

The FBI alleges that Mitchell recruited a motley group of men and at least one woman, Sheila L. Cassata, 48, of Amherst, as accomplices.

Mitchell is also alleged to have committed at least three bank robberies personally- and other times drove a getaway car.

Three of his alleged accomplices admitted their roles in eight bank robberies.

Mitchell allegedly sought to recruit men and women without criminal records because they would be harder for police to identify.

"He would intimidate many of them into committing the bank robberies," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa M. Marangola. "They were easily manipulated and were in fear of him."

Once, one of his gang, while inside a bank, allegedly asked a teller to call police because he did not want to face Mitchell, who was waiting outside in a getaway car.

On another occasion, Mitchell allegedly strip-searched a confederate because he thought he was holding out on him from a robbery earlier that day.

Law enforcement officials say the 26 robberies seemed linked because of similar language used on notes handed to tellers which described a specific caliber weapon in the robber's possession, instructions on how much money to hand over, warnings advising tellers not to hand out or activate bank security devices, instructions not to make eye contact, and warnings that other people were waiting outside.

Other similarities include the same bank locations getting robbed multiple times, time of day the robberies took place, and the lack of attempt to cover up the robber's physical features.

"If the allegations are true, this would certainly represent one of the largest bank robbery rings anywhere," U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr., said.

Mitchell was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy the day after his arrest and told the court he was unemployed, had only $24, and needed a court-appointed attorney.

He remains in custody and faces up to 20 years in prison for each of the three robberies he's accused of committing.

The investigation is ongoing. If Mitchell is tied to all 26 robberies, he would surpass John Herbert Dillinger (1903-1934) and his gang, who robbed 24 banks.

Dillinger robbed four police stations, left a dozen dead in his wake, and was the first big case for a newly renamed FBI.

Of the bank robberies allegedly committed by Mitchell in Niagara Falls, one was the Dec. 16 hold-up of the First Niagara Bank branch on Main St. Mitchell may have also driven the getaway car that fled from a botched robbery at the Bank of America branch on Military Road on Aug. 7, where Allen Strain, 37, was arrested inside the bank after a teller activated the bank's silent alarm.

The criminal complaint is the culmination of an investigation by the FBI's Safe Streets Task Force, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Brian P. Boetig.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Jan 28, 2014