A man who kidnapped and terrorized credit union and bank executives, employees and their families to extort money from their financial institutions could face up to 300 years in prison.
A federal jury in Knoxville, Tenn. last month found Michael Anthony Benanti, formerly of Harmony, Pa., guilty of 23 felony counts of conspiracy to commit robbery and extortion, kidnapping, carjacking and using a firearm to commit crimes.
He is expected to be sentenced in July.
Throughout 2015, Benanti and Brian Scott Witham of Waterville, Maine, targeted credit union and bank employees in Connecticut and Tennessee. When carrying out their crimes, the duo dressed in black or fatigue clothes, brandished weapons and threatened employees and their family members to force them to rob their own financial institutions.
Witham pleaded guilty last year to seven felony counts of bank extortion, carjacking, and using a weapon to carry out a crime. He is scheduled to be sentenced in August in U.S. District Court in Knoxville and faces up to 67 years in prison.
In February 2015, Benanti and Witham invaded the home of credit union CFO Matthew Yussman, tied up his mother and forced him to wear a bomb in a failed attempt to rob a branch of the $126 million Achieve Financial Credit Union in Berlin, Conn. The bomb was fake and Yussman was not injured.
Following the Connecticut crime, Benanti and Witham targeted two other credit union employees and a bank employee as well as their families via social media sites and surveilled their homes with digital cameras.
The men used Go-Pro cameras affixed to trees and shrubs around the home of Mark Zeigler, president/CEO of the $ billion Y-12 Federal Credit Union in Oak Ridge, Tenn., as well as employees of the $114 million Northeast Community Credit Union and SmartBank.
In April 2015, Zeigler and his family were kidnapped by Benanti and Witham in a failed attempt to extort cash from the credit union’s Oak Ridge, Tenn. branch. Three months later in July, they invaded a home of a loan officer of SmartBank in Knoxville and forced him to steal $195,000 from the bank. And in October, the men forced an employee of the Northeast Community Credit Union of Elizabethtown, Tenn., and her minor son to help the Benanti and Witham rob the cooperative.
No money was stolen during the attempted credit union robberies.
Following a police chase in North Carolina on Nov. 25, 2015 Witham and Benanti were arrested by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and other local authorities.