Immanuel Lee Williams, Cara Lee: Florida couple arrested, charged in 15 bank robberies
Micah Grimes, WFTS
8:03 AM, Nov 10, 2013
12:40 PM, Nov 10, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. - A Tampa couple's alleged year-long bank robbery spree that saw a spike in activity during a time of maternity leave and a lull during a period of employment has ended after crossing state lines.
An 18-page FBI affidavit released by the United State Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida on Friday accuses Immanuel Lee and Cara Lee Williams of a 15-bank robbing spree in central Florida and south Alabama.
The affidavit alleges that the Williamses, both 28, began their spree with a robbery of the Chase Bank at 4601 West Kennedy Boulevard in the Westshore area of Tampa on Dec. 5, 2012.
The robbery would establish a modus operandi by the couple that would help multiple agencies across Florida, Alabama and the FBI tie the robberies together, leading to the arrest of the couple this week.
"In each of the robberies, the black male wore long-sleeved shirts, a hat and/or a wig, and gloves and/or tape on his hands and fingers," the affidavit reads.
According to the FBI, Immanuel Lee Williams carried out the actual robberies in all but the robbery of Trinity Bank in Dothan, Ala., on Nov. 4.
Dothan Police told ABC affiliate WDHN that witnesses described seeing a white female suspect who fled from the bank with an undisclosed amount of money after the robbery. The woman who robbed the bank was wearing thick-rimmed glasses and an apparent wig.
Throughout the spree, the couple allegedly used index cards with similar demands in similar writing.
A variation of a yellow index card with black block-style lettering with exclamation points and underlining was often used, but the note allegedly used by Immanuel Lee in the Aug. 22 robbery of the Edison National Bank in Ft. Myers was pink.
"The majority of the demand notes from the robberies have demanded the same denominations of US currency (100s, 50s and 20s)," the affidavit states. Some of the demand notes were left at a bank; some were not.
As the spree stretched into 2013, the couple allegedly continued to team up: Immanuel Lee robbed the banks; Cara Lee Williams waited in the getaway vehicle.
On two separate days in January and August, the FBI believes the couple hit two banks in one day.
On Jan. 9, a suspect walked into the Chase Bank at 10943 Causeway Boulevard in Brandon, notably wearing a "Poker Room" hat and long-sleeve dress shirt, and demanded money by giving the teller a handwritten note, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff's investigators.
After fleeing the Brandon bank, HCSO officials said the same suspect entered the SunTrust Bank at 701 W. Dr. Martin Luther King Kr. Blvd. in Seffner less than an hour later, and fled with more money on foot.
The couple supposedly spaced out robberies for the rest of the year, until Aug. 28, when they hit the Bank of America at 300 Havendale Blvd. in Auburndale – the same bank the couple allegedly worked together to rob on Feb. 21 -- before robbing the MidFlorida Credit Union at 300 Amersweet Way in Davenport just over an hour later.
According to the affidavit, investigators were able to obtain surveillance video from a nearby business in Davenport that recorded Immanuel Lee getting into a black sports utility vehicle, believed to be a Mercedes-Benz, following the second robbery that day.
Investigators sent a request to the Florida Dept. of Transportation's Turnpike Authority for a review of surveillance video to see if a similar vehicle passed through an eastbound toll plaza on the Polk Parkway before the first robbery.
The FDOT found and sent images of a 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 that passed through the toll plaza roughly 11 minutes after the Auburndale bank was robbed, according to the affidavit. Investigators drove the route from the bank to the toll plaza and determined it took 11 minutes.
A vehicle registration check led investigators to Cara Lee Williams as registered owner of the vehicle, and also a white 2012 Ford Mustang that was registered under her maiden name.
Investigators went back and looked at surveillance video from a Ft. Myers bank robbery that was carried out six days before the Davenport and Auburndale robberies, and saw the suspect in the Edison National Bank robbery fled on foot before getting into a white Ford Mustang that was driven by a white female.
Investigators looked at public records and determined Cara Lee, the registered owner of both vehicles, was married to Immanuel Lee and they lived at a large Tampa apartment complex.
More than a month later, investigators said they obtained surveillance video from the apartment complex's entrance that showed a black sports utility vehicle and a white vehicle enter approximately five minutes apart, and roughly 25 minutes after the MidFlorida Credit Union in Plant City had been robbed.
Plant City Police obtained surveillance video from a nearby residence that allegedly showed the suspect fleeing the bank and getting into the black sports utility vehicle.
Investigators claim that after some of the robberies,
the suspect didn't immediately flee to a getaway vehicle.
"This fact, coupled with witness reports and surveillance video showing a second person driving a getaway vehicle at some of the robberies suggests the involvement of an accomplice and communications with that person to coordinate a meeting point," the affidavit states.
Investigators said they have taken latent print from the crime scenes, but admitted that none of the prints have matched those of Immanuel Lee Williams.
After finding cell phone numbers for the couple, investigators began going back to look at robberies and cross-reference cell service location data with phone companies to establish the locations of the phone over the past year.
The affidavit explains that investigators have allegedly been able to put the cell phones in close proximity to several of the bank robberies.
Following the Plant City bank robbery, law enforcement began monitoring the physical movement of the couple and investigators began to look into their history, according to the affidavit.
Agents were having trouble finding where the Williamses worked, but were able to determine that Cara Lee Williams received biweekly paychecks from a business and received other sources of income to their bank accounts.
It was also determined that Immanuel Lee Williams began working as a part-time temporary employee at the United State Postal Service in March, but hadn't work there since August – roughly the time between the two Auburndale bank robberies.
The FBI stated that the Williamses were followed on several occasions to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in east Tampa and subsequently learned that Immanuel Lee has what is referred to as a "player card" at the casino.
Investigators went back and looked at the dual robberies in Brandon and Seffner and claim the same hat seen in the video of the robberies was given to casino patrons who held the "player card" and gambled frequently.
As investigators reviewed Cara Lee's work history, they began to piece together what they claim is a pattern of being absent from work when the bank robberies were taken place.
The affidavit states Cara Lee's most recent employer was JPMorgan Chase Bank. On the first day of the bank robbery spree, Dec. 5, 2012, investigators said Cara Lee used a vacation day.
On Dec. 15, investigators believe Cara Lee gave birth to a child and didn't return to work until Jan. 28.
During that time, the FBI believes the couple committed the Brandon and Seffner robberies, and robberies of the Chase Bank at 4820 S. Florida Ave. in Lakeland on Jan. 19, and the Chase Bank on Orange Blossom Trail in Orange Co. on Jan. 22.
After returning to work, the FBI said records show Cara Lee to unapproved sick days on the same days the Chase Bank at 2001 North Dale Mabry Hwy. in Tampa, Feb. 7, and the first time the Auburndale bank was robbed Feb. 21.
After allegedly robbing the Compass Bank at 2620 SW 19th Ave. Rd. in Ocala, and the Center State Bank at 114 W. Belt Ave. in Bushnell, on the same day, the couple dropped one of their children off at daycare and drove around on I-4 in the Brandon area Oct. 29.
Investigators said the couple was tracked getting on and off the interstate, passing and circling banks, before ultimately returning home without ever getting out of the vehicle.
At some point, investigators gained access to or placed a tracking device on the couple's Mustang, after obtaining tracking warrants for both vehicles.
Since Nov. 2, investigators said the Mustang hadn't moved from the couple's garage, but they weren't seen at the home Nov. 4 and 5.
On Nov. 4, the Dothan bank was robbed, according to police, in a similar way as the central Florida robberies, expect the while female was seen carrying out the robbery.
A note was given to the teller that allegedly read, "THIS IS A BANK ROBBERY. I HAVE A GUN SO BE QUIET & FAST & NO ONE GETS HURT! HAND ME ALL YOUR 20s, 100s, & 50s! BE FAST & NO ALARMS!"
Investigators believe Cara Lee was the white female suspect in the bank robbery.
On Nov. 6, agents again pulled cell phone location data from Verizon that showed the couple's cell phones moved north from Tampa on the morning of Nov. 4 and were tracked to near the Dothan bank around the time of the robbery the same day.
The phone was tracked from Dothan to Panama City, Fla., and two days later, the Alabama Credit Union in Gulf Shores, Ala., was robbed, police told ABC affiliate WEAR.
The robbery style matched how the Williamses allegedly carried out their robberies, according to the affidavit: "A review of the surveillance photographs of the robbery revealed that the subject of this bank robbery matched the disguise and physical description as the previous 13 bank robberies that occurred in … Florida."
A calculation by the FBI has determined that the suspects have stolen $54,740 during the spree, with their single biggest robbery of $9,880 during
the Aug. 28 Davenport robbery.
Following the Gulf Shores robbery, the local police department said in a statement, that an arraignment was made with the assistance of FBI Mobile to arrest Immanuel Lee at the couple's home in Tampa later the same day of the robbery.
The FBI said Immanuel Lee showed weapons in some robberies, but no one was ever injured.
Most of the surveillance videos that were shared with the public throughout the spree show him acting very calm, with other patrons in the banks oblivious to a robbery taking place.
The Williamses were arrested and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on FBI holds for federal bank robbery. Both were officially charged with "conspiracy to obstruct, delay, or affect commerce by robbery and conspiracy to commit bank robbery."
According to the US Attorney's Office, they made first appearances before a US magistrate judge Friday.
A bond hearing for Cara Lee was set for Nov. 14. Immanuel Lee reserved bond and remains held. The couple has been transferred into federal custody.
Attempts to reach an FBI spokesperson for further details on the case have yet to be returned and attempts to reach relatives of the Williamses have not been successful.
This case was investigated by the FBI, Tampa Police, Polk County Sheriff's Office, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Auburndale Police, Lee County Sheriff's Office, Sumter County Sheriff's Office, Orange County Sheriff's Office, Ocala Police, Dothan Police and Gulf Shores Police.