Local Teacher Allegedly Involved In Bank Robberies Linked To Gambling Losses

BROWNSTOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Burdensome losses at gambling casinos have created an unlikely breed of bank robber, law enforcement officials say.

At least five people in Michigan have robbed banks in the past year to get cash to repay casino gambling debts, the FBI reports. Overall bank robberies in the state, meanwhile, declined by 25 percent in the first half of 2002.

"We have seen an increase in the number of people who are robbing banks to pay gambling debts at the casinos," Special Agent Terry Booth of the FBI's Detroit office told The Detroit News for a Monday story. The total might be higher because the FBI doesn't always determine a motive for the robberies, he said.

The convicted bank robbers include an elementary school teacher from Ohio and an electrical engineer from Saginaw.

Gamblers whose debts are mounting faster than they can repay them often borrow against credit cards, from banks, directly from casinos or from loan sharks, law enforcement officials say.

Continued losses, or inability to repay existing debts, may create the kind of desperation that eventually landed Leslie C. Washington in prison.

The 27-year-old teacher from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, ran up big losses while gambling at Detroit casinos with a man she met there. Washington declared bankruptcy, then took a more drastic step on July 12, 2001.

Washington bought a $30 gun and masks like those from the movie "Scream." She, her boyfriend and another man went to a bank in Wayne County's Brownstown Township and got away with $11,151 before they were nabbed by police after a 15-mile chase at speeds exceeding 110 mph.

Washington was stained with dye from a hidden anti-theft device that exploded inside her Ford Explorer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Lemish said. "She was literally caught red-handed," he said.

Washington pleaded guilty to bank robbery and was sentenced in May to 10 years and four months in prison. The FBI is investigating whether Washington can be linked to two other bank robberies near Akron, Ohio.

"She obviously doesn't fit the profile of a bank robber -- a sad story," the FBI's Terry Booth said.

Rob Hunter, who for years ran a large gambling addiction center in Las Vegas, said he wasn't surprised by stories like Washington's. He has seen doctors, lawyers and others who don't fit the criminal's profile turn to crime to support betting habits.

"In their mind, it's not so much a crime as it is a short-term loan," Hunter said. "It's always just to break even. They're always going to put it back the next day. It's not a typical criminal mind-set."

Richard Kozlow, 58, pleaded guilty in May to robbing 11 banks in 10 states, including one in his native Saginaw -- crimes motivated by gambling, according to federal authorities.

Kozlow, who has a degree in electrical engineering, was arrested Nov. 11 after he claimed a jackpot on a gambling boat in East Peoria, Ill., and employees asked for identification. He faces up to life in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Aug. 12.

A study by University of Illinois economist Earl Grinols suggested that crime rates begin rising three years after casinos open, perhaps because it takes chronic gamblers that long to exhaust their resources. The first of Detroit's three casinos opened in Detroit in July 1999.

"After four or five years, you can assert that about 8 percent of the crime a city has is because of the casinos," Grinols said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)