Malvo bank visit bolsters extortion theory

Sniper shootings coverage
FAIRFAX, Va. -- Lee Boyd Malvo walked into a Chevy Chase Bank branch near Dulles International Airport on Oct. 21 and asked the manager a puzzling question, according to law enforcement and bank officials.

They told the Washington Post that Malvo asked if he could receive a large wire transfer without opening an account or giving his name.

Bank officials told Malvo they couldn't accommodate him. Malvo became agitated, made a smart remark and left, said P. Kevin Smith, director of security for Bethesda-based Chevy Chase.

Less than 15 hours later, the final victim of the sniper attacks -- bus driver Conrad Johnson -- was fatally shot in Aspen Hill. His was the 10th death in a string of 13 shootings across Maryland, Virginia and the District over three weeks in October.

Authorities say the bank visit -- recorded on surveillance videotape -- bolsters a theory that Malvo, 17, and John Allen Muhammad, 42, carried out the Washington-area sniper attacks to extort millions from the government and will help prosecutors make their case under Virginia's new anti-terrorism statute.

"Along with the letters and the phone calls, this helps corroborate that theory," one law enforcement official told the Post.

The meeting between Malvo and the bank employee came during a flurry of demands by the snipers for a $10 million government payoff to end the shootings.

Malvo's inquiry came hours after police missed a payment deadline and not long after prosecutors say Malvo called an FBI agent to say that the demands were "nonnegotiable."

Michael S. Arif, Malvo's attorney told the newspaper that he was not aware his client had visited the bank but declined to comment further.

Malvo is facing trial on capital murder charges in Fairfax County, Va., in the Oct. 14 slaying of FBI analyst Linda Franklin outside a Home Depot. Muhammad faces identical charges in Prince William County, Va., for the Oct. 9 shooting of Dean Harold Meyers outside a Manassas-area gas station.

The demand for money came after nine people had died in the Washington region and after a spate of robbery-shootings from Prince George's County to Atlanta, Alabama and Louisiana that authorities have said are tied to the sniper suspects.

When Malvo walked into the bank at Dulles Town Center Mall in Loundoun County, Va., local, state and federal law enforcement officers were scrambling to placate the then-unknown sniper while trying to identify a suspect.

Malvo and Muhammad are charged with capital murder and face the death penalty under two legal theories. One charges that the suspects were carrying out terrorist acts to influence the government through intimidation.

Prosecutors have said that Malvo and Muhammad left at least two notes -- in Ashland, Va., on Oct. 19 and in Aspen Hill on Oct. 22 -- and made calls to police demanding money to stop the shootings. The suspects allegedly claimed police "incompetence" was causing more people to die.

The Ashland note set a payment deadline of 9 a.m. on Oct. 21. Authorities say Malvo called the FBI at 7:57 a.m. that day from the Richmond, Va., area referring to the note and reaffirming the demands.

According to Chevy Chase Bank officials, Malvo walked into the bank's branch at the Dulles Town Center Mall at 3:04 p.m., going to the waiting line for tellers. A manager walked over to see what Malvo needed, and the teenager began asking questions about making a transfer to the bank.

"He came in and just wanted to know if he could receive a wire without being a customer and without giving his name," Smith said. "It wasn't even a couple of minutes, because the answer was no, and out the door he went."

Smith said Malvo appeared upset, muttered something dismissive and left. The visit lasted about a minute and was recorded by the cameras, Smith told the newspaper.

Smith did not immediately return calls today seeking comment.

While odd, Smith said, Malvo's inquiry didn't raise suspicions that it might be connected to the sniper shootings until employees became aware of media reports about the Ashland note's financial demands.

When the media began showing Malvo's photo near the time of his arrest Oct. 24, two employees remembered seeing him and called the sniper task force hot line.

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