FORT PIERCE — It could be argued that there are better ways to pay the back rent than bank robbing.
But that's what appears to be the motive for Rodney Allen Verbeck, 56, who was arrested last week in connection with a March 5 Chase Bank robbery in Fort Pierce and with a bank robbery in Boca Raton a day earlier in an oddball caper even by Fort Pierce standards.
"It was within 15 minutes of the bank robbery he paid his rent," Fort Pierce police Detective Jason Braun said Wednesday.
Braun's agency began investigating March 5 after the robbery of a Chase Bank in the 600 block of Virginia Avenue.
A teller said the robber walked up casually and they made small talk, a complaint affidavit states. The teller asked if it was a long day and asked if the man was a chef. The robber said he was and asked how she guessed. After getting change for a $5 bill, the robber presented a note demanding money, according to statements in a complaint affidavit.
Fort Pierce police released a surveillance image of the robber to the media.
Within minutes of releasing the surveillance image, a television news crew based in Palm Beach County told Fort Pierce police the suspect's photo appeared to match that from a Boca Raton bank robbery a day earlier, said Sgt. Dennis McWilliams, Fort Pierce police spokesman.
"We contacted Boca Raton (authorities), we got them to send a set of stills from their robbery, as well as we sent ours down there," Braun said. "Once we saw them, it was pretty clear that they were the same guy."
Braun said the robber hadn't altered his appearance, and even looked to be wearing the same shirt in both incidents.
"Same type of M.O., same note," Braun said. "Very calm demeanor when he approached both tellers, very friendly."
The next break came March 12 when a tipster said the robber lived in the Cortez apartments in Fort Pierce, which are situated on Linda Sue Circle. The caller indicated the man had a big white dog and just paid his rent in cash.
Police identified the man as Verbeck. Investigators got a prior booking photo of Verbeck from the St. Lucie County jail and compared that to bank surveillance images from both robberies.
"A photo lineup was done, we shared the information with Boca detectives," Braun said. "The photo lineup was done both here and in Boca with the tellers, and both tellers positively identified him."
Police interviewed Verbeck's wife and she said she didn't know where he was living.
"She had no address or contact information other than a cellphone," Braun said.
A U.S. Marshals task force found Verbeck in Delray Beach. Verbeck was living with a girlfriend there, but his wife was in Fort Pierce, Braun said.
The wife works part time in Boca Raton — across the street from the bank that Verbeck is accused of robbing, Braun said.
Braun said investigators believe Verbeck robbed the Boca Raton bank March 4 and went to the business where his wife works. The two are thought to have taken a cab to a Tri-Rail station and eventually arrived in Fort Pierce.
Braun said Verbeck didn't get enough money in the Boca Raton robbery to cover his $2,275 in back rent.
The next morning, Braun said, investigators believe Verbeck, who doesn't have a vehicle, took a cab to the area of the Chase Bank in Fort Pierce. After that robbery, he took a cab to the area of the Cortez apartments. Within 15 minutes of the Fort Pierce robbery, Braun said, Verbeck paid the back rent in cash.
"The motive for the robbery looks like he was being served an eviction that day," Braun said. "The sheriff's deputies had served the eviction that day at the same time he was in there paying the back rent."
Braun said Verbeck was arrested March 15 in Delray Beach in connection with both bank robberies.
Braun said Verbeck's wife said that before Verbeck showed up in her office, she hadn't seen him in about four months.
"I can't explain their relationship," Braun said.