A man who allegedly has been thieving money from area banks and reportedly snatched money from a teller counter in Effingham County was caught in Pembroke Wednesday.
Charles Scott Latham, 44, who had an Ellabell address on his driver’s license but, according to police, had been staying at a hotel in Garden City, was captured by police after he entered The Heritage Bank in Pembroke and allegedly tried to exchange two dime rolls filled with pennies for cash.
Bank employees recognized Latham – called by some the "penny bandit" – and called police, and when he left the bank they were at the door waiting for him.
"We took him down inside the bank," said Sergeant Billy Gray with the Pembroke police department. "When he went to open the door we reached in and grabbed him."
Gray said the tellers who dealt with Latham in the bank were calm and didn’t over-react, which helped local law enforcement apprehend him.
"It was textbook on their part," Gray said of their handling of the situation.
According to Detective Donnie Crosby, the lead investigator on the case, Latham has been charged by the Pembroke Police Department with one count of theft by deception and one count of receiving stolen property. Both charges are misdemeanors; however, according to Gray, Latham’s grabbing money in Effingham County is considered a felony of robbing a bank by sudden snatching. He said the FBI has showed interest in investigating Latham.
Crosby also said Latham had successfully passed off pennies as dimes at the First Coastal Bank in Pembroke and received $20 before going to The Heritage Bank.
"We’re not sure how many (banks) total he went to," Crosby said. "He had a calendar in his possession in a bank bag. He had Pembroke and Claxton marked in the calendar on March 21."
Gray said a man that rode to Pembroke with Latham on Wednesday told authorities Latham had been to banks all over the area, but the man said he wasn’t an accomplice. He told police he had been dropped off before Latham went to the banks. Gray said police couldn’t link the man to any of the thefts.
On Wednesday, Pembroke Police Chief Bill Collins said Latham had been to banks in Rincon, Ludowici, Savannah, Jesup and Hinesville.
Crosby said once Latham was in custody he told police he liked crack cocaine and heroin and was using the money he received from his coin scam to pay for drugs and his housing. Crosby said he didn’t think Latham was under the influence of drugs at the time of his arrest.
"He told us he had a drug problem and that’s why he does this, to have a place to sleep at night and to buy his drugs," Crosby said.
Latham is currently being held in the Bryan County Jail, but Crosby said he could be moved to a jail in Effingham County as early as this weekend.
Crosby said Latham was on probation out of Gwinnett County after serving prison time for 55 counts of forgery. While in prison he befriended a man whose mother lived in Ellabell and offered Latham the opportunity to go and stay with his mother so he could get straightened out and off of drugs.
Crosby said Latham was in Ellabell from Jan. 30 until sometime in February when the woman gave him a car – the same one he was driving when he was caught Wednesday – and told him to leave because he was back on drugs and she didn’t want that around her home. Crosby said he’s been living in Garden City ever since.
Gray said no drugs or weapons were found after searching Latham’s car but officers did find more coin wrappers and a bag containing something made to look like hashish.
Jason Floyd, first vice president with The Heritage Bank who oversees security, said the tellers in the bank knew about Latham and his scheme.
"Our managers were aware of (Latham)," Floyd said. "We notified the law when he came in. The tellers remained calm, answered all his questions, and told him they couldn’t help him when it came to changing out his coins. The local law enforcement stepped in and took if from there."