Stolen Dreams

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

The few witnesses he did have recounted details that made Skopek very nervous. "He'd enter the bank and he would do an immediate surveillance. He would pick out that teller that he felt was the weakest one," he says. "He would tell them, 'Hey I have a gun. Hurry up,' and emphasized the fact that he had a gun. And you know, 'Don't fool around. No funny games. No alarm.' Very scary."

Skopek says he was worried things were going to escalate and get violent, and his bosses were also starting to worry that sooner or later someone was going to get hurt.

The first few banks the robber hit were all Fleet banks, now owned by Bank of America, all near one another on the South Shore of Long Island. He'd strike on a Thursday or Friday. Skopek thought that was information he could use.

Police set up surveillance of Fleet banks along the South Shore; instead, the bank robber went to Long Island's North Shore at a different time of day and a different day of the week.

The robberies continued. Every two weeks or so, Skopek would head to a scene, scour the area and find more discarded disguises but nothing to help him identify the bank robber

The criminal Skopek was looking for seemed to have thought of everything.

"He used to go in the front of the bank, take a cup of coffee and put it on the mailbox and walk into the bank to commit the robbery," says Michelle DiPaolo, the assistant district attorney assigned to the case. "After he committed the robbery he would pick up the cup of coffee off the mailbox and continue down the street. Who would suspect someone who's walking around with a cup of coffee of committing a bank robbery?"

He even thought about the notes demanding money. So far, there had not a fingerprint on them - the robber must have worn gloves when he wrote them. He sometimes left the notes with the tellers and sometimes took them back

The authorities tried to learn as much as they could from the traumatized tellers.

Paul DeStefano is in charge of security at the State Bank of Long Island, the ninth bank the robber attacked. The day the bank was hit, the teller on duty was a woman with a baby at home.

"This is not an ATM withdrawal where there's a mindless entity that you're removing money from. It's a living breathing person," DeStefano says.

When the robber came into the bank, he handed the teller a note threatening her with a gun if she didn't hand over the money. As frightened as she was, she still she had the presence of mind to hold on to that note. Police say her decision changed everything for them. Because unlike all the other notes the robber had passed, this one held a vital clue to the robber's identity: the note was written on a piece of paper simply torn from a notebook.

"I immediately stated to think that for someone to rip the page out of a spiral notebook, he would have to grab it pretty good and pull it from the book," says Det. Skopek. "I thought fingerprints."

Veteran Detective Charlie Costello was working in the fingerprint lab that day. He sprayed the note with a chemical that can bring out hidden prints; heat from a regular iron activates the chemical. He examined the note using a machine called a "crime scope."

Costello ran his results through the FBI database. There was no hit. Then he ran the prints through the local Long Island database and to his surprise, a name popped up from almost 20 years ago.

In 1984, a teenager had been arrested for drinking and driving, and was fingerprinted. And now, those prints matched the prints of the bank robber.

But Det. Skopek was still in for a surprise - the man he had been looking for, the robber who committed ten bank robberies, was a happily married Wall Street trader, the son of a cop, who lived in one of the finest neighborhoods in the area.

But with that matching fingerprint, Det. Skopek was sure he had the right guy handcuffed to the table.