Man charged in serial armed bank extortion scheme pleads guilty

Published 8:41 am Thursday, March 3, 2016

Court News
A Waterville, Maine man charged with armed bank extortion of the Northeast Community Credit Union in Elizabethton pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. Federal Court.
Brian Scott Witham, 45, pleaded guilty to charges contained in a December 2015, 15-count indictment involving armed bank extortions of the Elizabethton credit union as well as the Y-12 Federal Credit Union in Oak Ridge and SmartBank in Knoxville.
Additionally, as a part of his plea agreement, Witham agreed to plead guilty to similar charges from three other federal jurisdictions including the Western District of North Carolina, the Middle District of Pennsylvania and the District of Connecticut which he, the U.S. Attorneys and the federal judge all consented to transfer to U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Tennessee. These charges include: being a felon in possession of a firearm in Haywood County, N.C.; armed robbery of an Ingles in Arden, N.C.; armed robbery of the Peoples Security Bank and Trust in Clarks Summit, Pa.; and attempted armed bank extortion of the Achieve Financial Credit Union in New Britain, Conn.
Sentencing for Witham is set for Aug. 17, 2016, in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.
The plea agreement, which is on file with U.S. District Court in Knoxville, contains detailed information regarding the crimes Witham admits to committing along with co-defendant Michael Anthony Benanti, 43, of Lake Harmony, Pa. Benanti is also charged in this case and is in custody awaiting trial currently scheduled for March 29, 2016.
Numerous law enforcement agencies were involved in this investigation. Tennessee agencies included: FBI Knoxville Resident Agency, along with the FBI Safe Streets Task Force; Knoxville Police Department; Knox County Sheriff’s Department; Johnson City Police Department; Carter County Sheriff’s Department; Oak Ridge Police Department; and Elizabethton Police Department. North Carolina agencies included: FBI Asheville Resident Agency; North Carolina State Highway Patrol; North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation; Asheville Police Department; Maggie Valley Police Department; Waynesville Police Department; Haywood County Sheriff’s Office; and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. Pennsylvania agencies included the FBI Harrisburg Resident Agency assisted by state and local law enforcement. Connecticut agencies included: FBI New Haven Resident Agency; Bristol Police Department; New Britain Police Department; Connecticut State Police; Farmington Police Department; and Berlin Police Department.
The following Assistant U.S. Attorneys were assigned to represent the United States in their various districts: Jacabed Rodriguez-Coss, District of Connecticut; Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gurganus, Middle District of Pennsylvania; and Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gast; Western District of North Carolina. Assistant U.S. Attorneys David P. Lewen Jr. and Steven H. Cook from the Eastern District of Tennessee represent the United States in this combined guilty plea.

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