TAMPA — A man whom authorities believe is responsible for at least nine bank robberies in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota areas, some while wearing elaborate disguises, was arrested Wednesday in Atlanta.
A tip generated through Crime Stoppers led authorities to identify Matthew Donald Maxwell, 29, as the man who committed the string of heists, according to Hillsborough County sheriff's officials.
In one robbery, authorities say Maxwell donned a full-body white painter's outfit with goggles and a mask. In another, he stuffed the front of a blue hooded sweatshirt to give the appearance of having large breasts.
The spree began in November, when a man wearing an Albert Einstein mask walked into a Venice Wells Fargo Bank in Sarasota County and demanded cash. A customer followed the robber out of the bank, but stopped when the masked man shot pepper spray into his face.
Since then, the same man is believed to have hit banks and credit unions in Clearwater, Tampa, and east Hillsborough County, authorities said.
On Wednesday, authorities executed a search warrant at Maxwell's home at 8413 N Branch Ave., in the Sulphur Springs area of Tampa. Inside, they found a large sum of cash hidden in what sheriff's officials described as a "secret compartment."
A tipster phoned Crime Stoppers in late July and fingered Maxwell as the man who committed the robberies. Investigators obtained a photo of him, which they showed in a lineup to two witnesses of the November heist, including the customer who was hit with pepper spray. Both identified Maxwell as the robber, officials said.
He was picked up while vacationing in Atlanta, authorities said. He remained jailed there Thursday pending extradition to Florida.
Maxwell has no prior criminal record in Florida. He has been charged in Sarasota County with bank robbery and battery. Charges in other jurisdictions are pending.
In Hillsborough County, he has been linked to seven robberies, authorities said. They were:
• Jan. 16, Fifth Third Bank, 1020 N U.S. 301, Tampa.
• Jan. 17, BB & T Bank, 4820 S Himes Ave., Tampa.
• Feb. 5, Fifth Third Bank at 3402 Lithia Pinecrest Road, Lithia.
• March 18, PNC Bank, 821 E Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon.
• May 16, Pilot Bank, 3415 Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa.
• May 29, Railroad Federal Credit Union, 4373 Lynx Paw Trail, Lithia.
• June 16, PNC Bank, 821 E Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon.
Maxwell has also been linked to at least one other robbery in Clearwater, authorities said. Multiple agencies, including the FBI, are investigating to determine if he might have committed any other robberies.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.