Bank robber gets 19 years

Man kidnapped bank manager, children from Calvert County home

Friday, Dec. 25, 2009

A federal judge sentenced a St. Leonard man on Tuesday to 19 years in prison, according to prosecutors who identified him as the leader of a group taking part last year in a bank robbery in Lexington Park.

A manager at PNC Bank's Esperanza branch and her two children were kidnapped at their Calvert County home before the September 2008 robbery.

Joseph Franklin Brown Jr., 37, was the last of the participants in the $169,000 heist to be sentenced.

At a courtroom in Greenbelt, prosecutors report, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow sentenced Brown this week to the 19-year term, followed by five years of supervised release, for conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery; armed bank robbery; brandishing a gun during a crime of violence and for being a convicted felon in possession of a gun.

The judge also ordered Brown to pay $57,485 in restitution to the bank, and entered an order of forfeiture against seized guns, money and items purchased from the bank robbery proceeds.

Brown earned his living by selling illegal drugs, the prosecutors' office reported following a plea agreement, before he started a relationship in 2005 with Quinita Jesse Ennis, a 31-year-old Lexington Park woman who knew of his illegal business and felony record. In June of last year, at Brown's request and using his money, Ennis bought a 9mm rifle from a gun shop in Lexington Park and gave him the rifle. Brown also had a 12-gauge shotgun.

Later that summer, prosecutors report, Brown's income from selling drugs dwindled, and he and William Cordell Johnson, 38, of Port Republic devised a plan to rob the bank. Brown and his coconspirators observed the whereabouts of the bank's manager, determining the time and route she used to leave her children in the care of another, and the procedures used by bank employees to open the bank.

On Sept. 24, 2008, prosecutors report, Ennis used her car to drive Brown and Johnson to the bank manager's residence. Wearing masks and camouflage clothing, and brandishing the 9mm rifle, Brown and Johnson kidnapped the manager and her two children, and drove the family to St. Mary's in the manager's vehicle. Brown got out of the vehicle, and Ennis picked him up.

Johnson ordered the manager to drive on to the bank and get funds from the bank, while he held her son hostage in her vehicle. The manager's young daughter went inside the bank with her.

Johnson took $169,900 from the bank manager upon her return to the vehicle, prosecutors report, and he forced her to drive him to a nearby elementary school, where she and her son were released. Johnson drove her vehicle to a nearby pharmacy, where he abandoned it and was picked up by Brown and Ennis.

They rode to a house off Indian Bridge Road near Great Mills, where Ennis received about $30,000 of the stolen bank funds, which she stored in a safe at her home, according to prosecutors. Later that evening, Brown, Ennis, Johnson and 41-year-old Edwin Jonathan Jones of Lexington Park traveled to casinos in New Jersey, where they gambled tens of thousands of dollars from the bank robbery.

Brown and Johnson buried the rifle used in the robbery behind a shed in the backyard of the Great Mills area residence, according to prosecutors. They purchased safes and buried the safes and $84,000 in the backyard, while attempting to burn the camouflage clothing, sunglasses, a stocking hat and gloves used in the robbery.

Brown got Ennis to arrange for the purchase of plane tickets for Brown, Ennis and Johnson to travel to Las Vegas, the prosecutors report, and she also wired $9,000 in stolen bank robbery funds to Brown in North Carolina, where he told her they would resettle.

St. Mary's detectives searched the Great Mills area residence two days later and seized the two firearms, safes, and $84,000 buried in the backyard. 

Ennis learned of the police activity and switched the rest of her share of the money from her safe to her purse before she went to work, where police arrested her and recovered about $16,000. Brown and Johnson were arrested in North Carolina.

Initial charges in St. Mary's courts were dismissed as the cases were moved to the federal court, where all four suspects eventually pleaded guilty to offenses from the crime.

Johnson was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Ennis was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jones was sentenced to eight years in prison. They also were ordered to pay the $57,485 in restitution.