Skip to main content

elba robbery

Two Elba bank robbers sent to state prison for their violent crime

By Howard B. Owens

Judge Robert Noonan said he still doesn't understand why Dennis M. Abrams decided to rob a bank in Elba on June 18, but even with the defendant's "Boy Scout" background, the violent nature of the crime compelled the judge to impose a serious prison sentence.

Abarams can expect to be separated from his wife and newborn baby in state prison for up to 13-and-a-half years.

When Noonan imposed sentence, a young woman sitting in the fourth row of the courtroom burst into tears, moaned, "thirteen and a half years," jumped from her seat and rushed toward the hallway doors.

As with the sentencing of accomplice Michael J. Wells 11 days ago, two former M&T employees spoke in court about the trauma of the bank robbery and how the events changed their lives.

"I would like Mr. Abrams to close his eyes and imagine what it would be like if his wife or his mother were on the floor with a gun to her head," said Patty Hackett, who was working as a teller the day of the robbery.

Both Hackett and former branch manager Theresa Claybourn read statements similar to their Dec. 10 testimony at the Wells sentencing (for audio of those statements, click here). And both had messages directly addressing Abarams and co-defendant Damone Dillon, who was also sentenced today.

Dillon, who acted as a lookout for Abrams and Wells, received the maximum term under his plea agreement, 10 years.

While Dillon had a prior criminal convection for dealing drugs, Abrams entered the Elba bank branch in June with a spotless record. According to his attorney, Daniel M. Killelea, Abrams was literally a Boy Scout, even while growing up in Buffalo's rough East Side.

"For lack of a better term," Killelea said, "he was a nerd."

"Dennis should not have come anywhere near anything like this in his life," Killelea said. "This was not a person heading down the road of committing a violent criminal offense. This is somebody who was held out as a person of achievement in his community."

At one time, Abrams was on track to become a cop in Atlanta, until a hiring freeze derailed his plans. Meanwhile, he took a job in a collections agency, which is where he met his wife. Together, they earned more than $150,000 a year. At the time he entered the Elba M&T Bank branch, Abrams had $2,000 in cash in his pocket.

Yet, Abrams conceived of the robbery, convinced his buddies to join him, carried his own registered handgun, drove his car from Buffalo to Elba, switched license plates on the car and drove himself , Wells and Dillon to the bank. After the robbery, he drove during the getaway attempt. At best, for his part in the actual robbery, he came in waving his loaded gun "Rambo style" (as Patty Hackett put it) and at worst, he held that same gun to Hackett's head (Killelea suggested that it was Wells who held a pellet gun to Hackett's head, not Abrams).

"Judge," said Killelea, "this is somebody who was so naïve of the process, so unsophisticated, that I've asked and I know we've discussed (motioning toward District Attorney Lawrence Friedman), why, if he needed money, didn't he simply just embezzle from his employer, a collection agency?

"The simplest explanation I can think of is that there is no movie or TV show about somebody embezzling from an office like that. He must have gotten the idea from movies or television, and he didn't associate with people doing that sort of thing."

Before imposing sentence, Judge Noonan spoke at some length about how puzzled he remains about this case.

"This case reaches out to hyperbole to say that this may go down as the most puzzling case I've ever heard," Noonan said. "I can't find anything about you that wouldn't say that you would not have been voted in high school the person least likely to rob a bank."

Noonan said he will probably wonder for years about why Abrams decided to violently rob a bank.

For their part, both Abrams and Dillon turned to Hackett and Claybourn and said they apologized.

Dillon, sentenced first without Abrams in the room, made near a full turn toward the first row of the courtroom and seemed to look both Hacket and Claybourn in the eyes when he spoke.

"I did wrong," Dillon said. "I apologize. I'm sorry that happened to you all. I wish I could take it all back. I can't, so all I can say is I'm sorry."

His contrite body language, however, turned to visible agitation when Noonan pronounced his maximum available sentence. Dillon immediately folded his arms tightly and his facial expression was tense.

When Abrams was asked to speak, he never fully turned toward the first row, and would look away occasionally.

"I'm sorry. I honestly had no intention of hurting anyone," Abrams said. "I'm sorry once again for causing this stressful...I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart. I didn't mean to put you through anything like that."

After court, his uncle, John Abrams, who works in law enforcement in the City of Buffalo, said the entire Abrams family feels remorseful for what the bank employees went through that day.

"Our family is very remorseful," John Abrams said. "We hope they can get on with their lives. As a family, we are very remorseful that it happened."

Abrams added that Dennis is also remorseful and has fully cooperated with law enforcement since his arrest.

"We still support him as we always have as a family," Abrams said. "And we want to thank the judge for giving him a chance to express his remorse."

Claybourn and Hackett left the courtroom through another exit and were not available for comment following the sentencing.

Sentencing in Elba Robbery

By Howard B. Owens

Demone Dillon, who acted as a look out in a robbery of the M&T Bank in Elba, received a 10-year sentence this morning, the maximum sentence available to Judge Robert Noonan under terms of a plea deal made earlier.

Dennis Abrams, who planned the robbery, is entering the court now for sentencing.

UPDATE: Abrams receives 13-and-a-half years in state prison.

UPDATE: Full coverage posted here.

Audio: Court statements by victims of M&T Bank robbery

By Howard B. Owens

In the hubbub of yesterday's storm, I never got around to posting links of the audio recorded by WBTA of the court proceedings Tuesday when Michael J. Wells received a 12.5 year sentence for his part in the mid-June M&T bank robbery in Elba.

WBTA received permission from Judge Robert Noonan to record the victim's statements, but the full audio was not available until late yesterday morning.

Interestingly, I just received a phone call from an M&T press relations representative expressing concern that the media had reported the victims' statements, "making them relive" the events, and released their names.  That's ironic because Theresa Claybourn used her statement to specifically criticize her former employer for the company's indifference to what she did that day and what she's been through as a result of that very traumatic event.

I've spoke with Theresa yesterday and know she WANTS people to hear what she had to say.   Both Claybourn and Patty Hackett specifically OK'd the recordings. If either one of them had objected, it's likely that Judge Noonan would not have authorized the recording.

Here are the links to the mp3 files.

Theresa Claybourn

Patty Hackett

Elba bank robber sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison

By Howard B. Owens

He was the last caught, the last to admit guilt, but Michael J. Wells will be first of three Elba bank robbers to go to state prison.

And he's going away for a long time.

Judge Robert Noonan did not impose the maximum sentence available to him under terms of a plea agreement, which was 15 years. But he told Wells this afternoon that under state law, he was required to impose a lengthy sentence and that he had no qualms about doing so.

The sentenced imposed on the 24-year-old was 12.5 years, followed by five years of supervised release. Under determinant sentencing rules, Wells is looking about 10 years in prison. He could serve another five if he got into any trouble after release.

Wells has no prior criminal convictions or offenses that might indicate he would try to rob a bank and, by all accounts, no history of drug use or alcohol abuse. According to his attorney Thomas Burns, Wells comes from a good family.

Even so, Noonan said he didn't understand what led Wells to participate in a viciously violent crime.

"When this case first came before me, I thought, though I didn't say it to court personnel, 'When this case plays out, I'm going to understand what this is all about,' and here we are six months later and this still all puzzles me. ...

"This is like somebody plucked a person from out of nowhere and said, 'why don't you commit some terribly violent crime?' And you, even being an intelligent human being, said, 'Sure, I'll go along with that.' This is just totally perplexing, and as I close your file, I'm just as puzzled by that today as I was on the first day."

And it was a violent crime.

Two of the women who were working in the M&T Bank branch in Elba on June 19 spoke before Noonan sentenced Wells. Both described an event of sheer terror that has left them traumatized -- both are undergoing treatment for PTSD -- and they said, scarred for life.

Patty Hackett, a 19-year employee of M&T Bank who has shown up for every court appearance for all three defendants, spoke first. She began by explaining how she and her husband worked hard to raise two children and send them to collage. When the children were babies, her husband worked three jobs -- including pumping gas at night and working on a farm on weekends -- to help make ends meet. When it came time to pay for college for their children, he again took on a second job.

"Not once did it ever cross his mind or our minds to rob a bank because we needed cash," Hackett said.

She then described in some detail the events inside the bank during the robbery. She was on a conference call when Wells, Dennis Abrams and Demone Dillon entered the bank yelling and waving guns.

"They came running through the doors Rambo-style," Hackett said.

She was going to try and grab the other teller that morning -- Alicia Nichols -- and try to make it to the bathroom where they could lock themselves in, but before she even got out of her chair, Abrams grabbed her, she said, and threw her to the ground.

"He was holding a gun at me," Hackett said. "I was terrified. I was sick. I was thinking, 'God, we’re going to be robbed and I’m going to die.'"

Later she added, "I thought, 'This is it. We're going to die. Please help me dear God,' I remember saying. I remember seeing a picture in my mind of my beautiful daughter and my beautiful son and my husband who is the love of my life."

Theresa Claybourn who was the branch manager that day, also described a scene of terror in which she thought for sure she was going to die.

"I believe that second man was intending to keep me at bay and I thought at any second he was going to come over and see my phone off the hook and think I called the cops and then shoot me dead," Claybourn said.

When it came his turn to speak, Wells, who has largely remained stone-faced every time he appears in court, didn't say much, but he did express regret for his actions.

"I made a terrible, horrible decision that day and I wish I could change it," Wells said. "I know that I can’t. If anything comes out of this, I hope that others will learn from my poor, bad example."

Both Abrams and Dillon will be sentenced at a later date.

WBTA's Dan Fischer was given permission to tape record the hearing and will have audio available online and on air later today and tomorrow. He may air the entire hearing tomorrow morning. We'll update this story with the time when that information becomes available. We'll also link to any audio he posts once they are available.

UPDATE: Audio from WBTA, Patty Hackett describes how the crime has changed her life (mp3).

Third Elba robbery suspect enters guilty plea, faces possible 15 years in prison

By Howard B. Owens

The last suspect captured is the final defendant to plead guilty.

Matthew J. Wells, 24, of Buffalo faces five to 15 years in state prison after admitting this morning to his role in the June 18 stick up of the M&T Bank branch in Elba.

The guilty plea came on a morning when Wells was schedule to appear on a pre-trial hearing to determine if his statement following the robbery could be used against him in a trial.

Attorney Thomas Burns said after the guilty plea that his client took into account the substantial risk of going to trial, in which a conviction could mean 25 years in prison.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said the plea bargain accepted by Wells today was made back in June.

Wells didn't give up easily the morning and afternoon of the robbery, either. He led more than 100 law enforcement personnel on a five-hour manhunt through the woods and fields of Batavia and Oakfield before finally surrendering. His co-defendants, Dennis M. Abrams, Jr., 26, and Demone D. Dillon, 25, were captured within an hour of the robbery.

Both previously pled guilty to charges stemming from the hold up. Abrams, the apparent mastermind of the scheme, was looking at up to 25 years in prison, and Dillon, who apparently served as a somewhat reluctant look out, facing three-and-a-half to 10 years.

Wells was the only one of the three to make any real attempt to challenge the state's case, with his attorney filing motions to suppress his statements and for a change of venue. The latter motion was eventually denied.

The case has left many in the criminal justice community shaking their heads. None of the three suspects had any prior adult criminal record, and only Dillon had a youthful offender conviction. All three had jobs and wives or girlfriends. All three men are fathers.

Abrams reportedly sent a text message to his wife before he was captured that read simply, "I messed up."

Friedman's job, of course, isn't to get wrapped up in sympathy for three men who made a bad decision. He's spoken to the victims.

"I spent hours talking with the victims of this crime," Friedman said. "I feel the impact that it has had on these women. With almost 28 years in this office, I've been surprised by the depth of emotion expressed by these women over what they went through in the bank. It was very traumatic. I had one of these women tell me she thought she was about to die. I have no idea what that must feel like."

As for the defendant's lack of prior criminal history, Friedman said, "that's what the pre-sentencing investigation is about."

"My job is to either secure a conviction or get an appropriate plea," Friedman said. "I  think in this case, I've given the court sufficient latitude in light of these crimes and in light of the defendants."

Change of venue request denied for alleged bank robber, at least for now

By Howard B. Owens

Attorney Thomas Burns won't get a change of venue for his client Matthew Wells, at least not yet, according to a ruling handed down by the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department.

Wells is one of three men accused of robbing the M&T Bank branch in Elba on June 18 and then leading local law enforcement on a six-hour manhunt through the fields and woods between Batavia and Oakfield.

Burns argued that Wells could not get a fair and impartial jury in Genesee County because many residents -- as evidenced primarily by comments left on The Batavian -- took offense to the perception that three city slickers could get away easily with a bank robbery in a rural county. Burns, in his motion, picked up on the phrase of one comment on The Batavian about dishing out "rural justice."

Burns also suggested that the only a fraction of Genesee County residents are black, so that it would be hard to seat a jury of peers for his African-American client.

The appellate judges ruled that Burns did meet the burden of proof that there is "reasonable cause to believe that a fair and impartial trial cannot be had." But the single-page ruling left open the ability for Burns to appeal again during the jury selection phase of a trial.

It's rare -- if not unheard of -- for attorneys to be granted a change of venue before jury selection begins, but if Burns had not filed the motion now, he could not file a motion -- under rules of the court -- for a change of venue later.

Wells is the only one of the three defendants to not plead guilty. Both Damone Dillon and Dennis Abrams have admitted to their roles in the June 18 robbery. Abrams, who planned the heist, is facing a lengthy prison term. Wells is accused of entering the bank with Abrams and actually participating in the stick up, while Dillon held the door and claims to have been a reluctant participant.

Neither defendant has been sentenced yet.

For previous coverage, click here.

Dennis Abrams pleads guilty for role in Elba bank robbery

By Howard B. Owens

NOTE: This is a rewrite of a previously posted version.

Two of the three men accused of robbing the M&T Bank in Elba on June 18 appeared in court today, and one of them, Dennis M. Abrams entered a guilty plea to one of the charges against him.

The felony conviction, as part of a plea bargain, carries a maximum sentence of 17-and-half-years in prison.

When District Attorney Lawrence Friedman informed Judge Robert Noonan of the plea arrangement, the friends and family of Abrams who were in the courtroom let out audible expressions of shock.

Abrams will be sentenced in two weeks, after a probation department review to help the judge determine an appropriate sentence. He could serve only five years, depending on Judge Noonan's ruling.

Meanwhile, co-defendant Matthew J. Wells followed Abrams into court, but he wasn't there to enter a plea. Rather the judge and attorneys were agreeing to a date for a future hearing on motions made by Attorney Thomas Burns, including a motion for change of venue.

Under questioning from Noonan, Abrams entered his guilty plea and then admitted to the bank robbery. He also said his previous confessions were true and accurate. He also agreed to testify in any trials for his co-defendants, if there is a trial (at this time, that would likely be only Wells, who is proceeding with a defense).

Co-defendant Demone Dillon entered a guilty plea two weeks ago.

Abrams and Wells remain in jail in lieu of bail.

One of accused Elba bank robbers agrees to guilty plea

By Howard B. Owens

BATAVIA, N.Y. -- Demone Dillon, one of three men accused of robbing the Elba M&T Bank on June 18, entered a guilty plea this afternoon to robbery in the second degree with a recommended prison term of 3 1/2 to 10 years.

As part of the plea bargain, Dillon agreed to testify in any trial of either of the co-defendants.  He also agreed to acknowledge that his confessions the night of the alleged robbery are truthful.

Under oath, while being questioned by Judge Robert Noonan, Dillon admitted that he accompanied Michael Wells and Dennis Abrams to Elba on June 18 and that at the time he entered the vestibule of the bank, he knew the intention of Wells and Abrams was to hold up the branch.

Dillon said he held the door open because the two other suspects feared getting locked in, and he was also supposed to alert Wells and Abrams if he saw the police, but admitted he didn't watch too closely for the cops.

He also couldn't see what was going on in the branch office while the robbery was in progress, he said.

"Everybody admits he's the least culpable of the three," said his attorney, Richard R. Shaw II, after the hearing. "We think that for what he's charged with, this is a fair plea."

Shaw also said he believes at least one of the other co-defendants will soon enter a guilty plea.

The attorney for Abrams, Daniel Killelea, had a closed-door conference with District Attorney Lawrence Friedman and Judge Noonan this afternoon.

Thomas Burns, the attorney for Wells, recently filed a series of motions challenging the prosecution's case and requested a change of venue for a potential trial.

"I imagine they'll all eventually plea," Shaw said.

Dillon's bail was reduced to $250,000 cash OR $250,000 bond. Previously, it was set at $250,000 cash AND $500,000 bond.

Judge Noonan will sentence Dillon at a later date after a probation department review of the case and interviews with Dillon, family members and victims.

One defendant in Elba bank robbery scheduled to enter plea tomorrow

By Howard B. Owens

Demon Dillon, one of the three men accused of robbing the M&T Bank in Elba on June 18, is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.

The court docket lists the appearance as "plea."

When a defendant is scheduled for a plea, that often means his attorney, in this case, Gary Horton, and the District Attorney's office have reached a plea agreement. 

The Batavian comments and coverage key part of defense change of venue motion

By Howard B. Owens

A "rural justice attitude" will prevent at least one of the defendants in the June 18 Elba bank robbery from getting a fair trial in Genesee County, according to Batavia defense attorney Thomas Burns.

Burns is defending Matthew J. Wells, who is accused, along with two other men from Buffalo, of robbing the M&T Bank branch in Elba, making off with at least $10,000 in cash, and then leading local law enforcement on a five-hour manhunt (with Wells being the final suspect caught).

In papers filed Thursday, Burns cites extensive media coverage of the robbery and manhunt, with special attention on The Batavian, as part of his change of venue motion.

Comments made by readers on The Batavian, as well as quotes from local law enforcement officials cited in coverage on The Batavian, indicate, according to Burns, that local jurors would be prejudiced against his big city client.

Among the five reader comments Burns includes in his brief is this one by Jeff Allen left the day after the robbery:

"Let's give major kudos to our local law enforcement agencies. The fact is these thugs thought that driving out to a hick town near a Thruway exit would be an easy knock off and escape back to the city. They got a quick introduction to rural justice. The only question that loomed yesterday was who would get them first, the police or a ticked off land owner with a shotgun! Great work everybody (Howard included), you did our area proud!"

Burns also cites quotes from Chief Jerome Brewster of the Genesee County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney Lawrence Friedman in The Batavian suggesting the suspects thought a rural bank might make an easy target.

His change of venue motion rests on three key points:

  • Intense media saturation coverage in a small, rural community with "sensationalized reports" combined with instantaneous and interactive technologies.
  • Lack of racial diversity in Genesee County (only 2.6 percent of the population is African-American).
  • The fact that some 30 to 35 percent of the people living in Genesee County were directly impacted by events that day, primarily because of the BOCES-imposed school lock down.

But it's the news coverage of The Batavian, and the comments on posts, that take up the bulk of the motion by Burns.

The attorney argues that the nature of media has changed, making the case for venue change even more compelling. The last change of venue granted was made by a local appellate court in a 1983 murder case. The trial was moved from Livingston County to Monroe County out of concern for "rural justice" attitudes and local media coverage.

"It is submitted that widespread use of internet news services will require courts to carefully assess the impact of instantaneous news reporting from on-line news services upon small rural counties reacting to high-profile crimes," Burns writes.

"It is reasonable to conclude that the Fourth Department Justices grappling with the Acomb, supra, decision in 1983 would have found the extent of localized publicity significantly increased had that decision been made after 1992, when the internet became widely accessible to the public, and even more so today where internet news sources saturate homes and businesses with instantaneous news of local concern and provide interactive content with subscribers and readers. Of the news services cited herein only the traditional print media and Time Warner services require reader/viewers to pay a fee. 'The Batavian' cited at length in this affirmation is available 24 hours per day without fee. In contrast, in Acomb, it is believed that media resources were exceedingly limited when compared to today's media outlets."

Burns also cites "extensive negative press" following bail review hearings for co-defendants Demone Dillon and Dennis Abrams as the reason he didn't seek bail for his client. Both Dillon and Abrams were offered bail of $250,000 and bond of $500,000 following hearings in which both defense attorneys and the prosecution discussed details of the cases at length. Following both hearings, written and verbal confessions were made available in the public case files. The Batavian reported details of the June 18 events from these sources.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said he doesn't believe Burns will win his motion and that it's premature for a change of venue motion because jury selection hasn't even started yet.

"Normally, you wait until you select a jury and then document the difficulty in doing so because of pre-trial exposure," Friedman said.

Friedman, who said he regularly follows local law enforcement cases on The Batavian, said it's rare for media coverage to impact the ability of attorneys to impanel an impartial jury and that it's too soon to say if new media is going to make that job harder.

Burns agreed that it may seem early to file a change of venue motion, but he said court rules compel him to file all of his motions within a certain time frame. In order to preserve the rights of his client, he said, he had to file the motion before today.

On behalf of Wells, Burns filed several other motions Thursday, including one to suppress any statements Wells made after his arrest.

Burns contends that Wells was not read his rights for more than two hours after his arrest. During that time, Burns states, Wells expressed a desire to remain silent and to speak to an attorney, but investigators kept pressing Wells to talk. Wells was arrested at 2:51 p.m., but it wasn't until 5:35 p.m., when a written confession was placed before Wells to sign, that he was read his Miranda rights.

Burns also claims there is a lack of reliable eyewitness testimony to place Wells at the Elba bank. The witnesses can only describe the robbers as black, Burns contends, and cannot positively identify Wells as one of the men inside the bank.

These facts call into question the evidence provided to the Grand Jury that led to the indictment of Wells on the bank robbery charges.

Burns also tipped his hand on a possible defense. Wells, in his defense, will assert "lack of knowledge and understanding of the criminal activity as a result of duress or improper influence by one or both of the co-defendants."

The change of venue motion was filed with the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department. The other motions were filed with Judge Robert Noonan in Genesee County. Noonan will hear arguments for the motion at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 8. There's no word on when the appellate division might issue its ruling.


Third suspect in Elba robbery enters not guilty plea

By Howard B. Owens

BATAVIA, N.Y. -- Michael J. Wells, the third suspect in the June 18 robbery of the M&T Bank in Elba, entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment this morning.

Wells is being represented by Thomas Burns. Burns made no application for bail this morning, so Wells continues being held in Genesee County Jail without bail.

Because there was no bail hearing, none of Wells statements or his background were discussed in court.

Last week both Damone Dillon and Dennis Abrams pleaded not guilty and Judge Robert Noonan assigned each $250,000 bail and $500 bond.

UPDATE: I just spoke with Thomas Burns, who is representing Wells, and he said he is communicating with District Attorney Lawrence Friedman on the eventual disposition of the case. Burns said he agreed not to make a bail application as part of that process. "We felt compelled to honor the request as a sign of good faith in negotiations," Burns said.


'I messed up,' Elba robbery suspect texted wife while hiding from police

By Howard B. Owens

It didn't take Dennis M. Abrams long on the morning of June 18 to figure out he apparently had made a huge mistake.

Within 30 minutes of leaving the M&T Bank in Elba with one of his buddies holding a bag full of more than $20,000 in cash allegedly taken at gunpoint, Abrams was lying in the brush along Lewiston Road sending a text message to his wife, Bianca.

"I messed up," was the simple message, according to Abrams' written confession.

"She called me because she did not know what I was talking about," he wrote. "I told her I could not talk because the police were close. I told her we had robbed a bank and that it had gone wrong. I then hung up because the police were close."

A few minutes later, Abrams was taken into custody.

His confession closes, "I would like to state that I made a mistake and that I am sorry for ever making this type of decision."

Abrams reportedly said he "messed up," but it wasn't like he wasn't warned.

According to the statement of one of his alleged accomplices, Demone Dillon, Dillon told Abrams and co-suspect Michael Wells that robbing a bank wasn't smart.

Dillon was the alleged look out who stood in the doorway of the bank while Abrams and Wells reportedly pulled off the stick up.

"I told them that it was a bad idea to rob a bank, but they decided to go in anyway," Dillon reportedly told investigators. "I followed them to the foyer area of the bank because I was told to do so."

According to Dillon's statement, Abrams called him about 10 o'clock the night before the robbery and said he had an idea to make some easy money.

In the Abrams' confession, Abrams said he and his friends were playing football the night before and started talking about how they needed more money.

"I said I know about this bank that I drive by when I go to Orleans Corrections to visit my cousin," Abrams wrote. "I said the bank was secluded, so we agreed to rob it."

The next morning, Abrams reportedly drove his black Chevy Blazer to pick up Dillon and Wells and then they stopped at Rite Aid to buy rubber gloves. Dillon said he knew the gloves were meant to avoid fingerprints, but he said he still didn't know the plan was to rob a bank.

It wasn't until they arrived at the bank, he indicates, that he learned of the plan. While sitting in the bank waiting for drive-up customers to leave, Dillon said, "I think this is a bad idea."

Inside the bank, the statement of teller Patti Hackett paints a terrifying picture. She said two men rushed into the bank while she was on a conference call with other M&T employees and the men started yelling, and she heard another teller scream "don't hurt me."

She writes, "The guy who grabbed me yanked me out of my chair and threw me to the ground." The men were yelling "get on the floor. We're not going to hurt you."

Hackett told investigators that the same man who threw her to the ground pointed a gun at her head.

In his confession, Abrams said he brought his Walthers P22 into the bank. He said it can hold 22 rounds, but he thinks it had only nine rounds in it at the time of the robbery, and that he waived it in the air with the safety on.

After leaving the bank, Abrams said he drove his Blazer at the speed limit until a state trooper spotted the vehicle and turned on his lights. Abrams said he stepped on the gas believing he could out run the trooper's Tahoe.

By that time, either Dillon or Wells had reportedly opened the money bag only to have an apparently pepper-spray-laced dye pack explode. Dillon said within a half mile of the bank, he threw the bag out the back window.

Abrams said that both Dillon and Wells were screaming for him to let them out of the car and he stopped at the first intersection he came to and the two men jumped from the Blazer and ran.

Dillon said he first went to a nearby house and lied down on the porch, but he quickly got up and started running. He removed his clothes because they had become wet and heavy, he said in the confession.

Dillon never directly explains why he agreed to go along with Abrams and Wells on what he admits in his statements clearly seemed to be a plan for some sort of criminal activity.

But the need for cash seems to be a factor. 

"The reason I did this is because I'm in serious need of money," Dillon told investigators. "I have a 6-month-old baby and also two 5-year-old kids."

Abrams, who admits in his signed confession to coming up with the plan, owning and carrying the gun, and driving his own vehicle to and from the bank, is about to become a father. In his confession, he said his wife Bianca is seven months pregnant. In his Genesee County Justice interview, he also says he is a foster father, and while being employed with the same company for more than five years, his gross earnings were $700 a week.

The third suspect, Michael Wells, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday at 10:30 a.m.

Yesterday, Judge Robert Noonan ordered Abrams and Dillon held on $250,000 cash bail and $500,000 bond each.

Pictured above, from the top, are Abrams, Dillon and Wells.

Elba robbery defendant reportedly sterling citizen prior to alleged crime

By Howard B. Owens

Dennis M. Abrams, one of the three men accused of robbing the M&T Bank in Elba on June 18, was, according to his attorney, a respectable, upstanding, taxpaying citizen prior to the alleged crime and subsequent chase and six-hour manhunt.

Abrams reportedly has no prior criminal record, is employed full time (with a collections agency that is supposedly keeping his job open for him), married and expecting the couple's first child in a month on their fourth anniversary. Abrams is also a foster father to his wife's nieces.

Yet, Dennis M. Abrams, 26, is also accused of using a pistol he bought and registered to put a teller "in fear of her life," according to District Attorney Lawrence Friedman.

In his written confession, Abrams reportedly admits to waiving his gun in the air inside the bank. Friedman said a teller tells a different story. She said Abrams pointed the gun at her head.

Friedman said Abrams admitted to hatching the bank robbery plan and driving his vehicle to and from Elba, after removing the license plates to help avoid identification.

Abrams, and co-defendant Demone D. Dillon, 25, both plead not guilty to three counts each of robbery. The third defendant, Michael J. Wells, 24, appears in court to answer the charges on Monday.

They are both being held on $250,000 bail and $500,000 bond.

Abrams has retained renowned defense attorney Paul Cambria, who is currently also representing Scott Doll, who is accused of killing a business associate in Pembroke. Daniel Killelea appeared today on behalf of Cambria.

With at least a dozen friends and family members, as well as his pastor, present, Killelea tried to convince Judge Robert Noonan to reduce his bail to $25,000.

"I think Mr. Abrams isn't typical of a defendant who stands before the court accused of bank robbery," Killelea said. "He has an actual life beyond the charges currently before the court."

Killelea also noted the Abrams gave himself up within 15 minutes of the manhunt starting and cooperated fully with law enforcement from the moment of his arrest.

Friedman countered that Abrams is accused of being the mastermind, the getaway driver and the man who owned and used a loaded handgun to help commit the crime.

"I'm confident in the strength of the people's case," Friedman said. "Mr. Abrams gave a full written confession. I find it hard to believe that a reputable collections agency would continue to keep him employed."

Noonan said that while he was mindful of Abrams clean background, he had to take into consideration the nature of the crime.

"I'm extremely shocked that a licensed handgun was used by the licensee in such a brazen manner," Noonan said. Noonan said that in 30 years he's only seen a licensee us his own gun in a crime once. "This never happens," Noonan added.

The trio allegedly left the bank with more than $20,000, according to Friedman.

Abrams' uncle, John Abrams, was among the family members in court. He seemed eager to talk about the case, but was advised by Killelea not to speak with the media. John Abrams -- who is reportedly in law enforcement and showed up at the State Police Barracks in Batavia during the manhunt to encourage Dennis Abrams to continue cooperating with the police -- did say there are two sides to the story and more to the case than what has come out so far.

Contrasted with Abrams, Dillon does reportedly have a prior record. He reportedly also has parole and probation violations in his past.

Two Elba robbery suspects to answer to charges in court tomorrow

By Howard B. Owens

Two of the three suspects in the June 18 robbery of the M & T Bank in Elba will be in court tomorrow to answer charges related to the alleged crime.

Appearing at the 10 a.m. arraignment at the county court house will be Dennis M. Abrams, Jr, 26, of 202 Merrimac St., Buffalo and Demone D. Dillon, 25, 128 LaSalle Ave., Buffalo.

Both men, along with Michael J. Wells, 24, 69 Camp St., Buffalo, were indicted by the county grand jury on June 23 on a charge of robbery in the first degree.

Dillon is represented by Gary Horton and Abrams is represented by Robert Convissar.

Previous coverage:

Alleged Elba bank robbers indicted by grand jury

By Howard B. Owens

The three suspects in Thursday's bank heist in Elba have been indicted by the Genesee County Grand Jury on charges of robbery in the first degree, according to District Attorney Lawrence Friedman.

The trio will be arraigned on July 1.

The men were identifed after the robbery of the M&T Bank in Elba as Dennis M. Abrams, Jr, 26, of 202 Merrimac St., Buffalo; Demone D. Dillon, 25, 128 LaSalle Ave., Buffalo; and, Michael J. Wells, 24, 69 Camp St., Buffalo.

Following the robbery, the three men allegedly fled the scene leading to a massive multi-agency man hunt that lasted more than five hours.


Suspects didn't know what they were getting into when they chose Genesee County

By Howard B. Owens

The suspects who struck the M&T Bank in Elba yesterday may have thought they picked an easy mark, but they over looked a few details.

Most importantly, they didn't even know the area. They knew only one route to and from the Thruway and under estimated the response times of local law enforcement.

"They were totally out of their element," said Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster of the Sheriff's Office.

(LISTEN, MP3s: Full audio of interview with Chief Brewster, Part 1, Part 2)

They didn't even know the difference between a field and a wooded area.

"When we talked with them, it had to be explained that a field is an open area and that woods is where trees are," Brewster said.

Brewster said the suspects, once captured, were quite easy to deal with.

"They were cooperative," Brewster said. "They did tell us what was going on and why they did what they did and why they chose that location and who did what inside the bank."

At least two of the suspects have no prior record.

"I think people from outside the area naively believe that because we're out in the sticks that law enforcement isn't on the ball like they are in urban areas," Brewster said. "It turns out it was just the opposite. These guys chose a bank that was probably within two miles of the state police and sheriff's barracks."

All of the money was recovered, and the gun recovered was loaded and had a bullet in the chamber.

The quick response and eventual capture of all three suspects could send a message to other would-be criminals, Brewster said.

"The message is out there, you're probably going to get caught," Brewster said. 

(Suspect Michael J. Wells pictured)

DA looking at taking robbery case to Grand Jury for indictment

By Howard B. Owens

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman could take the case against yesterday's three Elba robbery suspects to the Grand Jury as early as Tuesday.

"It's a little early in the day to know for certain," Friendman said.

If he decides to seek an indictment, it could be returned as early as the same day. Without a grand jury indictment, the suspects are entitled to a pre-trial hearing within six days, a right each suspect could waive.

The public defender is currently meeting with the suspects and each will be assigned their own attorney, either a public defender or public-provided outside council, or they could retain private attorneys.

Friedman also praised the work of law enforcement yesterday.

"We're very pleased with the job the police agencies did in this case," Friedman said. "It was great to see it unfold. I think many times people when people come here here from other places, they think its easy to get away with ( in  a small rural county) and that's often not the case."

Meanwhile, Scott DeSmit has more details about yesterday's robbery.

Inside the bank was a terrifying scene.

Two men, both brandishing handguns, their faces masked, entered the bank.

A third man waited in the vestibule, Genesee County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster said.

"The two entered the bank and jumped over the counter at two tellers," Brewster said.

The men knocked the tellers to the floor, then made them get back up to open the drawers, holding the guns to their heads, he said.

The two went through the drawers, retrieved the money and fled.

There were no customers in the bank at the time, Brewster said.

Both guns were later recovered. One was a loaded semi-automatic. The other was found to be a Crossman BB-gun, Brewster said.

Previously: Elba robbery suspects identified, arraigned and held without bail

Authentically Local