Stolen Dreams

A Wall Street Trader Lives A Secret Life As A Serial Bank Robber

This story originally aired on March 15, 2008.

Stephen Trantel was a Wall Street insider who seemed to have it all: a beautiful family, a nice home in an upscale Long Island community, and fancy cars. But what those closest to him didn't know was that he was living a secret life.

And as correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, that secret life began to unravel on one November day in 2003 after what was supposed to be just a day of fishing.

It was dark and stormy in more ways than one on that November night. There had been no news about Stephen's whereabouts for hours, when police called his wife, Jeanne Callahan.

Jeanne's friends Brooke and Laura had been with her since earlier in the evening, hours after Stephen was due home. "We were going through a thousand different scenarios. If he was in a hospital, why had nobody called, if he was mugged, somebody stole his wallet, he was in an accident his body was in a ditch someplace," Laura remembers.

The news wasn't that bad, but it wasn't that good, either: Stephen was alive but was under arrest, charged with crimes that could put him away for the rest of his life. Police told Jeanne her husband was a bank robber, and that he didn't commit just one or two robberies - he committed ten.

Jeanne told police they had the wrong man.

To the people who knew Stephen, he was the least likely to rob a bank - for one, he was the son of a New York City cop. And because he was a trader in the big money world of commodities, he wouldn't have to steal anything.

The Trantels lived in a tony little town in the suburbs of Manhattan called Rockville Center. And Jeanne was living a nice life. Every month, Stephen handed her a wad of cash. He had always been generous, ever since they met when she was just 24.

After they married and he established himself as a trader, they drove nice cars, took nice vacations and Jeanne could stay home to raise their two sons, Stephen Jr. and his baby brother Ryan.

And when Stephen got home from his job, he got right down to work, helping with the upbringing of his sons. It was impossible to imagine this man robbing banks.

Yet there he was in police custody.

"He got on the phone and he was really scared. And I just kept saying 'Steve, what's going on? What's going on? What's going on?' And he said, 'It's okay, I'm innocent,'" Jeanne remembers.

Police had been confronting him with surveillance pictures from bank security cameras.

For Stephen, this day that ended in handcuffs began out on the water for a fishing trip. The only problem with the day so far was the tail light on Stephen's car: it was out.

But on his way home, police suddenly swooped in and surrounded his car. And he was a little bit of a wise guy. "I got to the stop sign and five cops surrounded me. They handcuffed me and put me in the car," he recalls. "And I'm like, 'Guys, all this for a tail light? Come on.'"

By the end of the night, Stephen was charged with bank robbery.

Stephen's lifelong friends, Laura, Bobby, Sarah, and Tommy knew this was a case of mistaken identity. Stephen was a little league coach, and played Santa Claus at their annual Christmas party. He also volunteered at soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity.

In fact, his friends even doubted that Stephen had the guts to rob a bank. "He was like a nervous Nellie. Like I couldn't picture the calm it would take to walk into the bank," Laura says.

While Jeanne spent a sleepless night reeling from her husband's arrest, Detective James Skopek was methodically going through the evidence to make sure he had the right man.

It had been a maddening case. After the first few robberies, Skopek had a bunch of clothes that the robber had tossed away and a group of terrified tellers, but not much more.

Surveillance tapes showed a white man in his 30s. Aware of all the cameras, the robber pulled the brim of his baseball hat low to cover his eyes.

"You could see on some of the videotapes, he walked in, made sure that he was okay in there, make sure there was a minimal amount of customers, so we didn't have a lot of witnesses to help our case," Skopek says.