Updated Dec. 4
Two suspects in the armed Nov. 17 robbery of a Rockland Trust branch in Tisbury will face federal charges, as new details emerged indicating they attempted to burn clothing and bury guns at a West Tisbury farm, according to a press release issued Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s office. For the first time, law enforcement officials said that $39,100 was taken in the heist.
The pending federal charges were announced as Omar Odion Johnson, 39, returned to the Island from Connecticut to plead not guilty to charges of armed and masked robbery and conspiracy in Edgartown District Court. Miquel A. Jones, 30, of Edgartown, had been scheduled to be in court on Thursday to have his charge elevated from an accessory after the fact to the identical charges Johnson is facing. Jones is now due to be arraigned on Dec. 12.
The federal charges carry a potentially stiff sentence of 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“According to the charging documents, on the morning of Nov. 17, 2022, three masked and armed individuals forced their way into the rear door of the Rockland Trust Bank in Tisbury. All three individuals were wearing dark-colored clothing and matching white masks that resembled an elderly man with exaggerated facial features,” the release states. “According to witnesses, each of the individuals were allegedly carrying what appeared to be semiautomatic handguns. The video surveillance also showed that one of the individuals was carrying what appeared to be a walkie-talkie. Once inside the bank, one of the individuals allegedly held a gun to the head of one of the bank employees, and forced him to open the bank’s vault. It is further alleged that the individuals entered the vault and took approximately $39,100, then bound the employees with duct tape and plastic zip ties, demanded access to one of their vehicles, and left the premises in an employee’s car.”
As The Times has previously reported, the stolen SUV was found in a parking lot about 2.3 miles from the bank. Minutes after the robbery, the individuals allegedly left the parking lot in another vehicle, the release states.
“According to the charging documents, following an investigation by law enforcement, Jones and Johnson were identified as suspects. It is alleged that subsequent searches by law enforcement resulted in the recovery of three $100 bills and clothing consistent with the individuals in Jones’ car; a black handgun from Johnson’s home; and paperwork reflecting both a money transfer to Jamaica in the approximate amount of $700 and cash deposits in the amount of $4,100 made at a bank in Connecticut in Johnson’s car,” the release states.
Both Jones and Johnson have been described in court documents as Jamaican nationals.
Friday’s court appearance
Johnson, under restraints in the dock, pleaded not guilty to armed and masked robbery and conspiracy. Judge Benjamin Barnes set Johnson’s bail at $300,000.
Jones was arraigned Nov. 21 on a charge of being an accessory after the fact to the robbery. His bail was also set at $300,000 by Judge Barnes.
During Johnson’s bail hearing, Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Michael Giardino, who participated via Zoom, provided more detail about what police have uncovered. Giardino asked for $500,000 bail, and told the court three suspects, after tying up bank employees, made off with “a significant amount of U.S. currency.”
Giardino said the robbery suspects fled in what was essentially a car stolen from one of the bank employees, The suspects later abandoned the vehicle, and surveillance footage showed a 2007 Hyundai Elantra exiting the area where the vehicle was abandoned. Police later determined the Elantra was “owned by Omar Johnson,” Giardino said. Police were able to locate that Elantra “utilizing surveillance video,” Giardino said. As the Times previously reported, that Elantra was seized by police on Beach Road in Tisbury on the night of Nov. 18. Jones was the operator of the Elantra at the time, Giordano said.
“Mr. Jones agreed to speak to law enforcement, and during that conversation he admitted that Johnson, the defendant, was present with him on Martha’s Vineyard on Nov. 16 to Nov. 17, and that he was driving with him in the Hyundai Elantra the morning of the robbery,’ Giardino alleged.
“[S]hortly after the robbery, or sometime after the robbery,” Giardino said, surveillance revealed Johnson arrived at a parking lot near the Steamship Authority terminal in the Elantra and exited the Elantra and entered a “silver sedan, which was identified as the vehicle that Mr. Johnson drove to Martha’s Vineyard from … New Hampshire.” Police later connected Johnson to the silver sedan, Giardino said.
Jones gave police permission to look at his cell phone, Giardino said, which yielded “text messages of significance,” including a line that allegedly stated we’re on “a little mission.”
Giardino said deleted Google searches by Jones allegedly contained searches for “security measures at a bank and security measures used to combat bank robbery.”
Johnson allegedly admitted to being on Martha’s Vineyard on Nov. 16 and meeting up with Jones and “another individual,” Giardino said, and that he left the Vineyard on Nov. 17.
Cellular location information for Johnson’s and Jones’ phones, Giardino said, shows the two tracking together on Nov. 16, including behind the Rockland Trust branch. The data also tracked phones to a place where Jones works, Giardino said. Police were able to search that area, and discovered “items consistent with the bank robbery. They found masks. They found what appeared to be burnt plastic strips — items consistent with a duffle bag that was used in the robbery.” In the same vicinity, Giardino said, police recovered “two firearms that match the description of the ones that were used in the course of the robbery.”
Unlike the federal release, Giardino didn’t disclose that this evidence was located at a farm, or that it was somehow associated with a landscaping company.
Giardino alleged that following the robbery, Johnson was seen in video at the Steamship Authority, where he allegedly employed a profile belonging to Jones to buy a ticket for his vehicle to depart.
Giardino said Johnson was arrested in Connecticut, and brought back to the Vineyard.
Johnson’s attorney, Janice Bassil, asked for $10,000 bail and flexibility to travel, as she said Johnson has two kids and a wife who is a U.S. citizen. She also said the couple’s income was such that they wouldn’t need to rob a bank.
“This is the first time he’s ever been separated from his children,” Bassil said.
She noted he had no criminal record. Bassil asked that her client not be held in the Dukes County Jail for his safety. She didn’t explain why. She requested he be held at the Barnstable County Jail. Judge Barnes said he believed Johnson should be held in the jurisdiction where the alleged offenses took place; however, he said, the ultimate choice of where the defendant goes is up to the sheriff.
The federal release credits the joint investigation by local, state, and federal law enforcement. Those involved include U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe; Col. Christopher Mason, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police; Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost; West Tisbury Police Chief Matt Mincone; Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee; Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren; Oak Bluffs Police Chief Jonathan Searle; Aquinnah Police Chief Randhi Belain; Canterbury (N.H.) Police Chief Michael Labrecque; and New Haven (Conn.) Police Chief Karl Jacobson. The release also states “valuable assistance was provided by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Meghan C. Cleary and Kenneth G. Shine of Rollins’ major crimes unit are prosecuting the case.
Updated to correct the spelling of an attorney’s name.