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Pinellas burglary suspects face more charges after bank robbery plan uncovered

PALM HARBOR — The men planned to wear masks from the horror movie Scream to hide their identities while they robbed a bank on Halloween, authorities said.

They decided to wear two layers of clothing so they could shed the top layer after they fled the scene. They would rent two cars to confuse witnesses: one to arrive in, the other to flee.

In note after note, they planned their crime, mapped out the bank, even kept a log of when certain employees were working, investigators said.

But the heist was thwarted this week when detectives investigating a string of residential burglaries found evidence of the intricate plot to rob the Patriot Bank at 1103 Florida Ave.

Detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said they found maps and detailed to-do lists when they searched the home of two burglary suspects on Monday.

The plan "was very detailed and drawn out and specific to everything … from A to Z," said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.

Matthew Hamilton Thomas, 27, and Thomas Edward Fields, 23, both of 1021 15th St. in Palm Harbor, were arrested Monday and charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery and multiple counts of burglary.

On Wednesday, both were being held in the Pinellas County Jail.

Fields' grandmother, Connie Fields, said Wednesday that her grandson has lived with her since he was an infant. She allowed his longtime friend Thomas to move in a couple of months ago.

She said both men have been getting counseling at Operation PAR for prescription drug abuse, but have had trouble paying for the sessions and their medications because they both have criminal records and cannot get jobs.

"As us older folks know, you work to get what you want and make do until you can," said Connie Fields, 62. "Things are a little different when you're on drugs."

She has discovered since the arrests that some items are missing from her home, too.

Burglary detectives said they recently identified Thomas and Fields as suspects in a string of break-ins, mostly in downtown Palm Harbor, after they pawned some of the stolen items at local pawnshops.

The burglaries occurred between mid September and mid October. Detectives said the two men forced their way into homes during the daytime when the residents weren't there.

So far, detectives have identified about 10 homes they believe were targeted by the two men. They're accused of taking jewelry, cash, electronics and tools.

Detectives searched their home after the arrests and found a portfolio containing detailed handwritten notes outlining a bank heist plan, officials said.

"It specified everything: what they would wear, their communications, the getaway vehicle. They knew what the inside of the bank looked like," Barreda said.

Detectives found maps of the bank's interior and exterior. Surveillance video showed the men had been inside the bank, Barreda said.

She said the men also appeared to be keeping track of license tags of bank employees' vehicles so they would know who was in the bank when they carried out their plan.

Detectives didn't find any guns in the home, but the suspects' plans indicated they were "in the process of obtaining firearms," Barreda said.

Both men have lengthy criminal records. Thomas' first arrest in Florida, on a battery charge, came at age 13, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He has prior convictions for burglary, dealing in stolen property, marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license. In 2009, he was sentenced to 13 months in prison for grand theft and trafficking in stolen property.

Fields has been convicted in Pinellas on charges of possession of oxycodone, uttering a forged instrument, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, and failure to appear.

Connie Fields believes her grandson and his friend were stealing to pay for the counseling sessions and medication to ease withdrawal symptoms.

She had this message for the burglary victims:

"I'm sorry and I know Tommy is sorry, and Matt," she said. "But they couldn't see any way out of it."

Pinellas burglary suspects face more charges after bank robbery plan uncovered 10/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 11:14pm]
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