TD Bank Employee Arrested for Conspiring to Rob Bank
The Elizabeth native was present during robbery of Westfield branch in September.
An employee of the Westfield branch of TD Bank was arrested Thursday and charged with conspiring to commit bank robbery, the United States Attorney’s Office announced Thursday afternoon.
Jelani Bustamonte, 23, was arrested by FBI agents outside his Elizabeth home Thursday morning, according to an announcement by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. The criminal charges stem from alleged communications with a suspect who is believed to have robbed both the Westfield bank and at least one other branch of TD Bank between September and December of last year.
According to the criminal complaint, Bustamonte exchanged text messages with his co-conspirator during November and December of 2011, in which they discussed a potential robbery of the Westfield bank's vault and an agreement to pay Bustamonte as much as $50,000 of the money stolen from the vault.
Bustamonte made his initial appearance Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cathy L. Waldor in federal court in Newark. He was charged yesterday in a complaint with conspiring to commit bank robbery, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison in addition to a fine of as much as $250,000.
The Westfield branch of TD Bank, located at 560 North Avenue East, was robbed during the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2011. According to initial reports, the robber stole about $5,700 before fleeing in a black sedan (the total amount was later confirmed to be $5,721).
Bustamonte was working at the bank when it was robbed on Sept. 11, according to the complaint. He also told law enforcement that he recognized the bank robber, but did not disclose the robber’s identity to bank personnel or law enforcement. Bustamonte later acknowledged to law enforcement that, on or before Sept. 11, he knew his co-conspirator would be attempting to rob the TD Bank in Westfield, the complaint states.
According to the complaint, an unarmed individual entered the bank on or around 2:21 p.m. on Sept. 11 and proceeded to hand the bank teller a deposit slip. The teller, who was in the process of counting cash at the counter, did not see any amount listed on the slip and attempted to return the slip back to the robber. The robber then pushed the slip back across the counter and ordered the teller to read the note, which read “I want all the money lo[o]se bills.”
Upon reading the note, the teller stepped back from the counter. The robber reached across the counter, took the money and left the bank with more than $5,700 in cash. The bank’s video surveillance camera recorded the incident and captured images of the robber.
Six additional TD Bank locations throughout New Jersey were robbed between October and December of last year, the complaint states. On or about Dec. 28, the alleged robber of the Westfield bank was charged with the Nov. 19 robbery of a TD Bank in Rahway. A subsequent, consensual search of the robber’s cell phone revealed text messages exchanged with “J Slave,” who was later identified as Bustamonte.
The text messages between the robber and Bustamonte, exchanged between November and December, included discussions of when and how the vault of the Westfield branch of TD Bank could be robbed. According to the complaint, Bustamonte told the co-conspirator, in substance, the following information: the amount of money stored inside the Westfield bank’s vault; when the vault would be replenished and/or filled; that certain employees possessed the codes necessary to open the vault; what the protocol was for opening the vault; and the time of day when the vault would be opened. The co-conspirator also asked Bustamonte whether he had access to a bb gun, the complaint states.
In subsequent interviews with law enforcement, Bustamonte told law enforcement that he had discussed robbing the vault of the Westfield bank with the co-conspirator and others. Bustamonte also said he advised the co-conspirator to go with one other person to rob the vault and that it was agreed that Bustamonte would received between $40,000 and $50,000 of the money stolen from the vault, the complaint states.
Bustamonte shared with the co-conspirator several details of the Westfield bank, including: the layout of the facility; whether guards would be present; the location of the safe; the amount of cash available in bank teller drawers; that the robber should ask for “loose bills” (i.e. not strapped money); when tellers push emergency buttons; and the most effective escape route from the building.
Fishman credited members of the Westfield Police Department, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and special agents of the FBI for their roles in the investigation leading to Thursday’s arrest. The FBI encourages any individuals who posses information relevant to the case to contact the Newark Division of the FBI at 973-792-3000.