A veteran Baltimore police lieutenant was arrested yesterday and charged by the FBI with holding up two city banks at gunpoint and stealing nearly $300,000, much of which he allegedly gambled in slot machines at Delaware racetracks.
Lt. Michael Timothy Snow, 38, who has been on the force for 19 years, was taken into custody at police headquarters. He was charged with four counts of bank robbery in holdups at two South Baltimore bank branches from 1996 to last year.
Snow, of the 300 block of Folcroft St. in Southeast Baltimore, is being held by federal authorities and is scheduled to appear tomorrowat a detention hearing in U.S. District Court.
Authorities said Snow became a suspect after a holdup in May 1999, and was charged after saliva and bits of hair were found on a black leather glove left near a bank vault. The FBI said in court documents that genetic testing led to the suspect.
An FBI affidavit unsealed yesterday states that investigators traced some of the stolen money to three bank accounts controlled by Snow - including at one of the branches that was robbed and at the Municipal Employees Credit Union.
Snow allegedly used his uniform to gain access to one branch two days before it was held up, where he helped employees take out trash. Another time, the affidavit says, he showed up in civilian clothes less than 15 minutes after a robbery and wrote a sign telling customers that the bank was closed because of the holdup.
In 1993, Snow was one of nine police officers nationwide who received honorable mention for Police Officer of the Year, sponsored by Parade magazine and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
At a news conference yesterday, Commissioner Edward T. Norris said the arrest shows that his leadership team is taking police corruption complaints seriously and highlights how he will work with the FBI to go after problem officers.
"The public's confidence in the Police Department should not be shaken by today's events," Norris said. "Today's arrest is the culmination of a real dedicated effort."
Maj. Michael Bass, a police spokesman, said department officials will decide by this afternoon whether to suspend Snow without pay, pending the outcome of the case.
Snow's lawyer, James Wyda, an assistant federal public defender, issued a brief comment. "It's a sad day for a Baltimore City police officer and his family," he said. "He looks forward to his day in court."
Snow had been on desk duty after being stripped of his arrest powers and gun in August 1998, when he was charged by the state with robbing a tow truck driver in Baltimore County. Prosecutors dismissed the charges, but Snow was kept on limited duty during an administrative review of the incident, which is continuing.
He was later reassigned from his patrol position at Northern District to Central Records.
After Snow was picked out of a lineup as a possible suspect in the bank robberies late last year, authorities placed him under surveillance. FBI agents said in an affidavit that they followed him to Delaware Park Race Track in Newark, Del., where he gambled on $10 slot machines for more than three hours, winning $30,000.
The affidavit says that between Dec. 2, 1998, and Dec. 31, 1999, Snow spent $204,736 on slots at two Delaware tracks. The records show he won $158,690.
Federal authorities said some of the money was used for payments on a 1999 Chrysler Sebring convertible, a 1997 Ford Expedition and a 1991 Ford Ranger truck.
The FBI alleges that Snow robbed two branches of the Bay Vanguard Federal Savings Bank over three years. The first two robberies - on Dec. 13, 1996, and the day after Christmas in 1997 - were in the 1500 block of E. Fort Ave. A branch in the 1200 block of Light St. was robbed on Dec. 11, 1998, and May 28, 1999, the FBI said.
Bank robberies typically net no more than $3,000 from tellers' cash drawers. The amounts taken from the vaults in each of the four robberies in which Snow is charged were $40,147, $93,329, $83,000, and $74,500, according to the FBI.
Court documents describe many similarities in the robberies, from black gloves and ski masks and other disguises to a shiny semiautomatic handgun described by tellers. Federal agents say Snow owns an unregistered chrome-colored Walther semiautomatic.
A search warrant application for his parents' home, three blocks from the Light Street branch, shows that detectives and federal agents were searching for makeup, false beards, wigs, police scanners, a gun, pry bars, latex gloves, credit card bills, car titles and safe deposit box keys. Authorities would not say what, if anything, was found.
In the first robbery, in 1996, police said a man wearing a disguise that included a white beard and dark-colored winter hunting cap held up a teller and forced the opening of the vault.
A year later, in December 1997, the branch was held up again. Police said the back door was forced open as the manager was preparing to open. An armed robber wearing a hooded jacket and ski mask demanded that the manager open the vault. But the manager was new, and did not have the combination.
The FBI said the robber waited for another employee to arrive about 20 minutes later, but he, too, was unable to open the vault. An employee was forced to call in an assistant manager from home, who was then made to open it.
In December 1998, the Light Street branch was held up by a man who waited in line and threatened a teller with what appeared to be a gun in his coat pocket. A teller was forced to the vault in the back. The FBI says police recovered two black gloves, one from the vault and the other from inside the bank's rear doors.
In May 1999, the Light Street branch was robbed again. Police said a gunman threatened a teller, demanded the opening of the vault and filled a plastic bag with money. Police said the suspect wore a blond wig pulled back in a ponytail.
The case broke on April 25, 2000, authorities said, when an FBI lab technician in Washington found traceable amounts of DNA and small brown hairs from the gloves.
The affidavit says "a specimen of saliva was surreptitiously obtained from Snow," and that on May 10, lab tests showed that the two samples matched.