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Gate City Bank in Park River robbed

PARK RIVER, N.D. A man brandishing a handgun and wearing a scarf over his face made off with an amount of cash this morning from the Gate City Bank here, according to Walsh County Sheriff Lauren Wild.

PARK RIVER, N.D. A man brandishing a handgun and wearing a scarf over his face made off with an amount of cash this morning from the Gate City Bank here, according to Walsh County Sheriff Lauren Wild.

FBI agents are working with the Walsh County Sheriff's Office to investigate the robbery, the third in the area in about a month. One robber entered the bank Thursday morning, but Wild said the man is believed to have had an accomplice. No suspects had been identified or arrested as of this evening.

It all started about 10 a.m., when a man wearing gloves, a dark jacket with a hood pulled over his head and a scarf hiding his face walked into the bank. Park River, which has a population of about 1,600, is about 60 miles northwest of Grand Forks.

"He said very little," Wild said. "There was a specific reference to cash, and he said he had a scanner and the tellers were not to say anything until five minutes after he left."

The three tellers who were in the bank were not physically harmed in the incident. The handgun was clearly visible, according to Wild.

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"No one got hurt, that's the main thing," he said. "We're happy to see and hear that."

The robber fled the bank in a flatbed utility pickup truck that was later recovered on a gravel road outside of Hoople, N.D. The flatbed truck, with a generator and tank on the back, had been reported stolen from a farmstead about six miles north and west of Hoople. It was recovered about 10 miles northwest of Park River, about a mile into Pembina County, a short time after the bank robbery, according to Wild. Hoople is about 10 miles northeast of Park River.

Witnesses saw a silver or gray mid-size car following the truck and also saw the robbery suspect get into the car, leading law enforcement to believe the suspect had an accomplice, Wild said. The truck was abandoned on a country road, he said.

The car then left the area in an easterly direction, Wild said.

A trend?

FBI investigators were processing the crime scene inside the bank this morning.

It's the fourth such scene federal investigators have searched in North Dakota already this year, and the third in the state's northeast region, according to Paul McCabe, spokesman for the FBI in Minneapolis.

No suspects have been identified in robberies at the U.S. Bank in Devils Lake or the Bremer Bank in north Grand Forks, both of which occurred in late March.

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Earlier this year, there was a bank robbery in Ray, N.D., where two suspects were apprehended. One of the suspects, Justin Rieniets, 22, of Tioga, pleaded guilty to charges Thursday. Another Tioga man, 34-year-old Brent Moe, pleaded not guilty to charges of bank robbery and aiding and abetting a bank robbery.

The number of bank robberies in North Dakota this year might not be out of the ordinary, McCabe said. Last year, there were only three bank robberies in the state, but in 2001 there were six bank robberies, he said.

"It can really vary, and it's really hard to determine what causes it to fluctuate like that," McCabe said.

McCabe said there's a drug issue behind most bank robberies.

"That's followed, secondly, by a gambling problem. And the next in line is they just want or need the money," McCabe said. "But the majority of the cases we've seen seem to have a drug nexus."

McCabe said checking out similarities and connections with other recent robberies will be part of the FBI's investigation.

"Naturally, it's one of the things you always look at," he said. Information from unsolved crimes, such as video surveillance, the way the bank was held up and other pieces of evidence are compared to each new case. It's likely the crimes also will be compared to the recent ATM thefts the FBI is investigating in the area.

"It's far too early to tell if there are any similarities," McCabe said.

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Reach Nadeau at (701) 780-1118, (800) 477-6572, ext. 118; or snadeau@gfherald.com .

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