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Robbers Are Victims of Price Gouging

By: Carl Langley
EdgefieldDaily.com Columnist
web posted January 4, 2008
GUEST COLUMN – It’s amazing what you can stumble into while trying to ferret out some information. And that’s especially true when you are working through the tangled web of a court system.

I made a call a few days ago to the U.S. attorney’s office in Columbia. I was inquiring about a scam run on the taxpayers by a defense contractor’s employees, who are adept at proving that you can hold up people more efficiently with pencils than with guns.

While chatting it up with a federal prosecutor, the government lawyer remarked, rather casually, that a man once prominent in local banking circles (he used a gun rather than a pencil) was trying to get out of the lockup. He said I was familiar with the case.

Yes, I knew Robert Henry Stewart, who was seeking to have his case reopened. Stewart was the mastermind of a zany bank heist four years before that turned into a Keystone Kops comedy.

Stewart and his cohorts, Fry Watson Suber III and Kuniaki Miles, needed money but didn‘t want to test the waters of the job market.. They decided the best place to get some fast cash was the First Citizens State Bank in Beech Island. There’s something about the Beech Island bank that attracts people like Stewart, Suber and Miles.

While robbing the bank seemed a good idea to the hapless trio, they had a major problem. They not only were short of cash, but they also were short of a gun needed to get a teller’s attention. To hold up a bank, you first must get a gun, and their solution was to rent one, with a promise to pay when the job was done.

Suber and Miles, acting on the advice of an unnamed party, went to see a man named Rahim to rent the pistol, while Stewart stayed behind in an Augusta motel to draw up the holdup plans. They got the gun and spent what few pennies they had left on a half-dozen bullets.

Testimony at their trial before U.S. District Court Judge Charles Simons provided a close look at the general stupidity and incompetence of people who make a living sticking guns under other peoples’ noses.

Naturally, it didn’t take the FBI long to bust Suber and Miles after the bank was robbed. Suber and Miles were offered a chance to plead guilty and get a light sentence if they fingered their associate. So, turned into canaries, their lyrics became sour notes for Stewart.

Unlike Suber and Miles, Stewart didn’t trust the FBI, lapsed into silence and decided to take his chances with a jury. He had good reason to fight the bank robbery charge. He had just completed a 10-year stretch in federal prison for a holdup of the Graniteville bank.

Stewart knew Simons, who imposed the first sentence on Stewart, had little sympathy for backsliders. The judge later told me he knew all about Stewart, but he couldn’t give the information to the jury.

Suber and Miles, who became the stars of the trial, said at first everything went well at the Beech Island bank. Stewart walked in wearing a stocking mask and packing the rented gun and walked out with about $8,000, leaving behind terrified tellers.

Suber told the jury that he had a few anxious moments outside the bank because Stewart piddled about in a pay telephone booth while he pulled on a stocking mask. “I thought he looked kind of suspicious,” Suber told federal attorney Dean Eichelberger, who prosecuted the trio.

Stewart, it was reported, prepared for the robbery by warming up on a pint of liquor and a few beers. Once refreshed and his nerves fortified, he led the way as the trio hit the bank, then fled to an Augusta motel to split up the loot.

While they were tallying up their take, law enforcement officers from several departments had mounted up and were on the road looking for the suspects. A gas station attendant along the route said he never saw so many police cars in all his life.

After stuffing their pockets with cash, Suber and Miles left the motel, got into their car and drove back across the state line to return the rented gun and pay off Rahim. They were due for a surprise. Rahim had been listening in on his police scanner and he turned out to be more conniving than the banker robbers. He told Suber and Miles that the rental cost for the gun had just gone up.

Rahim had put two and two together, realized his customers were the bank robbers and knew there were bigger bucks to be had. Suber and Miles objected to the revised rental fee and told Rahim they didn’t have that much money with them. Rahin walked over to a refrigerator, pulled out an ominous looking black pistol and remarked that if the rental fee was not paid in full “someone” was going to get shot.

Rahim was not moved by their plight and advised them to go and get more money. Unable to complain to the Better Business Bureau and mindful of the death threats uttered by Rahim, Suber and Miles piled in their car and headed back to the motel.

During a break in the trial I asked FBI agent Glen Dolphin, who had supervised the manhunt, if it was common for people to rent guns and for some people to keep guns in refrigerators. “Only if they are fond of cold steel,” Dolphin remarked.

Spurred on by Rahim’s demands and threats, Suber and Miles went back to the motel, got more money and headed back to pay the jacked up rental fee. But along the way the luckless duo picked up a trail of police vehicles that turned the roadway into a ribbon of flashing lights, sirens and horns.

A deputy described the scene as “one long funeral procession minus the noise.”

With the jaws of justice snapping at their heels, the two bandits stopped their car, jumped out and began running. They left behind a trail of money that was scooped up by deputies in hot pursuit. They soon were caught and it didn’t take the FBI long to convince them that Stewart should be in their company.

At the trial, Stewart’s lawyer Bill Weeks made a game effort to save his client. He paraded Stewart before the jury and asked him to smile. Weeks, after hearing that the tellers made a remark about the robber’s teeth, noted that Stewart was toothless.

Weeks said he wanted to plant doubt in the jurors’ minds, but no mention was made of the fact that Stewart may have worn false teeth to the bank. I gave Weeks an A for trying but the ploy didn’t impress the jury, which didn’t take long to reach a guilty verdict.

After the trial, I asked the FBI agent what was doing to happen to Rahim, who obviously was running an unlicensed gun rental business. Dolphin wouldn’t comment, but I left the courthouse with the feeling that Rahim was going to be in a whole heap of trouble.

The unhappy plight of Suber, Miles and Stewart did tell me one thing. If you are going to rob a bank you should buy your own gun, steal one or borrow one from a friend. However, if you must rent one do business with a reputable person, not a price gouger. It doesn’t seem fair to take advantage of two mental defectives trying to make a dishonest living.

This Article orginally published by Carl Langley appears in his First book.

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