Friday, January 1, 1999

Bank heists in 1998
follow odd state trend

By Rod Ohira


It was an even-numbered year, which according to a recent trend meant there should have been fewer bank robberies in Hawaii than the year before.

And there were.

During this decade, bank robberies have followed an up-and-down pattern, with numbers rising in odd-number years and dropping the following year.

There were 40 robberies in 1998, compared with 43 the year before.

The numbers for preceding years are 35 (1996), 65 (1995), 47 (1994), 57 (1993), 35 (1992), 56 (1991) and 17 (1990).

Myron R. Fuller, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Honolulu office, is certain the phenomenon is not related to economic issues.

"If you took the profile of a typical bank robber, you'll see that they're desperate because of a drug, alcohol or other habit they can't control," Fuller said.

"They usually have no skills to hold down a full-time job. These are people who will rob regardless of the economy."

What is believed to be the state's largest solo bank robbery ever was among the 32 cases closed this year.

James Taylor Wharton was sentenced in May to 57 months in federal prison for the Jan. 5 robbery of Bank of Hawaii's Kailua-Kona branch.

Wharton threatened bank officials with a pellet gun and forced them to hand over $733,000 from the safe. He was arrested a short distance from the bank.

All but $145 of the stolen money was recovered, and Wharton was ordered by U.S. District Judge Helen Gilmor to repay the bank for the lost amount.

Five suspects were responsible for 15 of the bank robberies this year, Fuller said. "Two people committed four each, one person did three, and two others did two each."

There were 36 robberies on Oahu, three on Maui and one on the Big Island.

"The good part, if there is one, is that most of the robberies here have been committed without violence," Fuller said.

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