SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A recent boom in bank robberies appears to have peaked and declined, say authorities who've worked to publicize that the offense sometimes brings stiff, federal sentences.
Utah financial institutions were hit a record 133 times in 2003.
The trend continued during the first three months of 2004, then slowed. There were 36 banks in the first three months and just 12 since then.
Officers said there was a misconception that Utah was lax on bank robberies. Several suspects and informants also told investigators they believed federal prosecutors would pass on the case if no gun was used.
"There was a time that criminals thought the Feds were not going to prosecute them," said Salt Lake County sheriff's Detective Jeff Smith.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jim Cross said the turning point was a late February media blitz by the U.S. attorney.
On Feb. 19, federal prosecutors indicted eight suspects, some of whom expressed disbelief when an FBI agent assisted the local police in the investigation.
The prosecutors also publicized the fact that a bank robbery charge can result in up to 20 years in federal prison, and an armed bank robbery can result in 25 years. State sentences are much lighter.
That same day, Sandy police arrested Jeremy Van Duren, whose slender appearance got him the nickname "Slim Jim." He confessed to 16 bank robberies, including 10 in Sandy, and used the money to support a drug habit, police said. Van Duren has pleaded guilty and is to be sentenced on Sept. 7.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)