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Updated 11 a.m. Sept. 20
By MARY SCHENK
For Rantoul Press
Area police are coordinating efforts to see if two men arrested Tuesday in connection with a Rantoul credit union robbery may be involved in any other recent robberies of financial institutions in Champaign County.
This year, there have been seven bank robberies in Champaign, one that might have been a robbery had the institution’s employees not locked the doors, and two in Urbana.
Tuesday’s holdup of the Community Plus Federal Credit Union was the first financial-institution robbery in Rantoul this year.
It was also a first in that police had the men in custody within 18 minutes of the holdup.
They have been identified as Darta Bishop, 24, who listed an address in the 400 block of West Maple Street, Champaign, and Maurice J. Thomas, 27, who listed an address in the 700 block of North Fifth Street, Champaign.
State’s Attorney Julia Rietz on Wednesday charged the men with two counts each of aggravated robbery.
“They indicated verbally to two tellers that they were armed with a dangerous weapon and took currency by threatening the use of force,” said Rietz, adding that no gun was ever displayed and none was recovered.
Only one of the two men — Rietz wasn’t sure which — went in the credit union. The other is charged under the theory that he is accountable for the actions of the other.
Investigators from Rantoul and Champaign talked to the pair Tuesday, and Urbana police have been in touch with those detectives.
“This has the potential to clear all of them,” Champaign police Lt. Bob Rea said of his city’s unsolved bank robberies.
To date, charges have been filed against four men for three of Champaign’s holdups.
Urbana police Lt. Bryant Seraphin said the men don’t fit the description of the robber in one of their bank robberies, but detectives are taking a closer look at the second.
Rantoul police Sgt. Marc Beach said his department was notified at 10:42 a.m. Tuesday that a man entered the credit union at 526 E. Champaign Ave. and handed a female employee a note that implied he had a weapon. No gun was seen, he said.
The man was dressed in a gray suit coat and was wearing a wig with longer-than-shoulder-length hair, a white ball cap, tan pants and red tennis shoes.
He left the bank and got in a car that was parked away from the bank, Beach said.
“We had the report and developed information about a possible suspect vehicle,” Beach said.
Rantoul police and Champaign County sheriff’s deputies joined in the pursuit of the car, which went south on Interstate 57 and exited at Market Street, where Champaign police officers were watching and waiting.
Beach said Thomas was the initial driver who bailed out of the car in the 1300 block of Clock Street in northeast Champaign. Bishop then climbed over to the driver’s side and kept going, heading across on Neil Street to the west, followed by Champaign police, before ultimately driving the car, a tan Lincoln, into a yard in the 1400 block of Winding Lane. He got out, ran and jumped over several fences in the neighborhood before police caught him.
Thomas, meantime, forced open the back door of a home in the 100 block of Garwood Street and ran through the house and out the front door before being caught.
“There was a resident home at the time, and as officers were taking Thomas into custody, the resident identified him as the one who ran in the house. I think he was trying to hide out in there,” Beach said.
Rietz said she wasn’t filing any charges now in connection with that action since it would be a much less serious felony than the aggravated robbery.
Rantoul police conducted a court-ordered search of the vehicle and found money from the bank.
“We’re still trying to determine if it’s all of it. The bank gave us a number and we found a number in the car and the numbers don’t match right now,” said Beach, declining to say how much was stolen.
“We found clothing items similar to that seen inside the credit union. We did not locate any gun,” he added.
Beach said police logs show that the holdup was reported at 10:42 a.m., that Thomas was in custody at 11 a.m. and Bishop was in custody at 11:01 a.m.
Beach and Rea said the car the men were using is registered to a woman whom they believe is a girlfriend of Thomas.
Rea said more than a dozen officers from his department, Rantoul and the sheriff’s office were involved in Tuesday’s robbery investigation. Beach said crime-scene technicians from the Illinois State Police helped by processing the scene at the credit union Tuesday evening.
Because of their criminal records, if they are convicted, both Bishop and Thomas face a mandatory prison sentence of up to 30 years instead of the normal range of penalties for aggravated robbery.
Rietz said Bishop is currently on parole for a 2007 armed-robbery conviction out of Wisconsin.
Thomas is currently serving a sentence of drug-court probation for two felony theft cases. He also has other convictions for theft, residential burglary, possession of stolen firearm and burglary.
Bishop is due back in court on Oct. 2. Thomas’ next court appearance was set for Nov. 20.
Bond for both men was set at $500,000.