HOUSTON - We hear the numbers, see the surveillance photos and even watch the getaways on TV. Bank robbers struck 160 times across Houston in 2012. That's twice as many robberies as the year before.
But this is the story of how one of those bank robbers hit banks inside grocery stores and the amazing way FBI investigators caught him.
"The victims of these robberies often times aren't just the banks," said FBI Special Agent Stephen Morris, head of the FBI's Houston division. "It's the people out shopping going about their everyday business."
Kyle Lee Puglisi, 27, became known as the "bearded bandit." He was accused in five Houston robberies -- all inside grocery stores.
The trail began inside a Kroger on Highway 6 in Copperfield. FBI investigators said Puglisi walked in the store, grabbed a cart and acted like any other shopper. He would cruise the aisles, putting items in his cart.
His target: a First Convenience Bank branch located inside the store.
"Everybody goes to the grocery store," said Dr. Mark Kellar, a retired sheriff's major and criminal justice professor at the University of Houston-Downtown. "So you can kind of blend in to that kind of environment much easier than a traditional banking environment."
Investigators believe Puglisi would shop until he saw a break in security. Then, he showed a gun and passed a note to the teller saying, "Don't make it obvious." Court documents obtained by Local 2 read that Puglisi ran away with a total of $7,636. However, surveillance cameras got a clear look at him.
It was the same method at each grocery store bank Puglisi targeted, investigators said.
At a Joe V's on the Houston north side, court documents show Puglisi shopped, approached a bank teller and walked out with $3,327. At an HEB on Spring Cypress near Interstate 45 North, investigators said he robbed the First Community Credit Union branch for another $3,380.
Documents read Puglisi would use a bike to ride to his getaway truck parked far away.
Investigators said before each robbery, Puglisi would put a Band-Aid on the tip of each finger to keep his fingerprints off the carts or anything else. Turns out, that wasn't enough.
At Puglisi's first robbery, he left his grocery cart and the things inside near the bank. The FBI processed the cart and items for DNA evidence and ran that evidence through its national database. When the results finally came back, investigators said the results all pointed to Puglisi, who had a criminal record.
FBI agents tracked Puglisi to a motel on the North Freeway, found Band-Aid wrappers in his truck and arrested him.
Bank tellers picked him out of a lineup.
Puglisi pleaded guilty to the bank robberies in federal court and now faces up to 20 years in prison. He's scheduled to be sentenced next month. Local 2 made several attempts to contact Puglisi through his attorney. Those calls were never returned.
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