"We aren't sure when Mr. Beckstead will be in Wyoming," said John Powell, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Wyoming, in a Thursday email. "The (U.S. Marshals Service) are coordinating his transportation to Cheyenne."
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cheyenne has charged Beckstead in Wyoming’s U.S. District Court with the robbery of the Cheyenne American National Bank on June 15, the attempted robbery of the Sunlight Federal Credit Union on June 19 and the robbery of First Bank of Wyoming’s downtown Cody branch a few hours after the attempt at Sunlight. No weapons were displayed during any of the incidents.
All three charges are felonies, each punishable by up to 20 years of prison time and fines.
To convict Beckstead, prosecutors will have to show beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the man who robbed the banks and that he did so either by force and violence, intimidation or extortion.
An affidavit from an FBI special agent in Lander that was filed in connection with the Wyoming case says Beckstead is also a suspect in a bank robbery in Ogden, Utah on May 15, one in Maysville, Okla., on June 9, and another in Columbus, Mont., on June 26. However, there’s no public records that he’s actually been charged with any of those crimes.
An email to Beckstead’s court-appointed defense attorney in Bismarck seeking clarification on the pending charges and information on his defense had not been returned as of press time.
Police say Beckstead had been living in Ogden earlier this year.
On March 10, he was arrested in nearby Riverdale, Utah, on charges alleging he’d been passing forged checks and on five counts of failing to appear for court, according to a March 12 article in Ogden’s Standard-Examiner.
A Riverdale police lieutenant told the newspaper that Beckstead was arrested with false identification papers and that police suspected he was trying to flee Utah and assume a new identity.
Beckstead stayed in the Weber County jail until May 8. That was when Utah District Court Judge Michael Di Reda released Beckstead on furlough to receive dental care.
Prosecutors had opposed the inmate’s release, said Chief Criminal Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward in an email to the Tribune. The deputy county attorney who handled the matter argued against the release by noting the pending charges against Beckstead, his prior criminal history and the fact that a different defendant had absconded during a furlough several months earlier, Heward said.
Beckstead argued he had serious dental problems that jail staff would not take care of, Heward said. Court documents recently cited by the Standard-Examiner say Beckstead had been told by a jail dentist that he should have several teeth pulled, and Beckstead wanted a second opinion from his own dentist to try and save them.
Di Reda granted Beckstead the furlough he asked for, but Beckstead reportedly never arrived at his appointment with the Ogden dentist.
The Wyoming affidavit from FBI agent David Donati says that on May 15, someone matching Beckstead’s description robbed Ogden’s Wasatch Peaks Credit Union.
Then, the affidavit alleges, Beckstead did what Riverdale police had feared he would when they arrested him in March: he allegedly fled Utah and began using a false identity of Ben Wolters.
The name of Wolters popped up on the FBI’s radar following the June 9 robbery of the First American Bank in Maysville, Okla., Donati wrote.
The FBI in Oklahoma had learned that a citizen there may have unwittingly served as a kind of getaway driver for the Maysville robber, taking the man to the bank that day and waiting in the parking lot, Donati’s affidavit says. However, the citizen was able to provide a key piece of information to the FBI: the robber had called and asked to be picked up using a cell phone number purchased by “Ben Wolters” of Ogden, the affidavit says. That cell phone number, the FBI later learned, was the same number Ogden police had associated with Beckstead and the May 15 robbery in Utah.
Shortly after the robbery in Maysville, Beckstead is alleged to have gone to a nearby Walmart and bought several American Express prepaid credit cards and a bus ticket to Missoula, Mont., under the Wolters alias.
The next night, Donati’s affidavit says, Beckstead checked himself into Cheyenne’s Rodeway Inn — a stop on the bus route; a motel employee later told Donati he “absolutely” recognized Beckstead from a photograph.
At the Rodeway, Beckstead allegedly claimed to be a Tulsa, Okla., man and stayed until June 17 or 18. While in Cheyenne, he reportedly bought some gear — including a Sierra Trading Post gift card under his real name — and did some lake fishing, Donati’s affidavit says.
Beckstead also is alleged to have robbed $2,836 from the ANB Bank during his stay in Cheyenne, using a note with the words, “Empty Your Drawer.”
On June 18, three days after that robbery in Cheyenne — and potentially within hours of his check-out from the Rodeway Inn — one of the prepaid credit cards was reportedly swiped at the Maverik convenience store in Worland.
On June 19, just before 9 a.m., a man matching Beckstead’s description walked into the Sunlight Federal Credit Union in Cody and handed the teller a note reading something like, “Empty your drawer fast,” Donati wrote. However, that early in the day, there was no cash in the drawer and the man — alleged to be Beckstead — left.
About two hours later, Beckstead is alleged to have been the man who walked into First Bank of Wyoming’s downtown Cody branch. The man had handed the teller a note reading something like, “This is a robbery, empty your drawer.” The teller told Donati the man was shaking and, speaking softly around a toothpick, said, “I’m here to rob you, give me all your hundreds and fifties.”
The man, alleged to be Beckstead, left with $3,350 from a “bait pack” of recorded bills.
The tellers in Cheyenne and Cody later picked Beckstead out of a photo lineup as the man who had robbed them, Donati said.
The FBI agent’s affidavit doesn’t provide any details, but briefly says a preliminary investigation of a June 26 robbery at the Altana Federal Credit Union in Columbus, Mont., indicates that the description of the robber matches Beckstead.
A warrant for Beckstead’s arrest in connection with the Wyoming robberies was issued July 3 by a magistrate judge in Lander.
On July 4, Bismarck police detectives were investigating a series of burglaries and checking local hotels for possible suspects, said a news release from the department. During the checks, they learned of a suspicious person staying at a local hotel. That person was Beckstead, and police found him outside a Mandan, N.D., gas station. They recognized him as being wanted for FBI questioning in connection with several bank robberies and wanted on the Wyoming warrant. He was taken into custody without incident, the release said.
Beckstead will remain in federal custody at least until a detention hearing is held in Wyoming and bond is set. The Wyoming U.S. attorney’s office has filed paperwork saying it plans to ask for Beckstead to be detained while the case proceeds, citing danger to the community and a belief that there are no conditions that would ensure Beckstead’s return to court if he was released.
With Beckstead still in transit, it's not known when he will make his first appearance in federal court in Cheyenne.
"Once he arrives, we will need to determine what hearing is appropriate in our jurisdiction and what date and time and judge will be available for a hearing," said Powell, the U.S. Attorney Office spokesman in Cheyenne.