WEST LONG BRANCH — It was almost five years ago that police responded to a silent alarm and learned a bandit climbed through a ceiling vent and made off with about $700,000 from an unlocked safe inside a check-cashing business in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
More than three years went by before an unnamed witness gave a detective previously unknown details of the heist, including the name of the person who committed it and that he and two others helped the bandit to cover it up.
Fast-forward almost two more years, and acting Monmouth County prosecutor Raymond S. Santiago Friday announced that the alleged robber has been caught.
Travis A. Bryant, 41, of Jackson, New Jersey, was arrested and charged with robbery, burglary and possession of an imitation handgun, Santiago said.
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The charges stem from a heist on Nov. 2, 2017, when West Long Branch police received a report about 9 a.m. that a silent alarm had been activated at a check-cashing business on Route 36, according to a news release from the prosecutor’s office.
Police learned then that a man wearing sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt pulled tightly around his face entered the business when no customers were present and used a ladder to access and climb through ceiling ducts to a secure area for employees where cash was stored in an unlocked safe, the news release said.
After the man fell through the ceiling, he ordered the lone employee to the ground. When she refused, he motioned to his sweatshirt, leading the employee to believe he had a gun, herding her into a bathroom, according to an affidavit of probable cause to charge Bryant with the crimes.
The employee came out of the bathroom after a short while and saw the bandit fleeing in a white work van, it said. She gave police a description of the bandit and told them that $700,000 had been stolen from the safe, which was typically kept unlocked in the secure area reserved for employees, the affidavit said. The culprit also stole the employee’s cellphone and purse, the affidavit said.
Because of the large amount of money involved, a special agent from the FBI was assigned to assist West Long Branch police in the investigation. They “conducted a thorough and exhaustive follow-up investigation spanning approximately two years, which included interviewing numerous potential suspects, but they were met with negative results,” the affidavit said.
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After more than two years had passed, Howell, New Jersey police detective Anthony Romano was off duty on Dec. 28, 2020, when he was contacted by someone with whom he had a personal relationship, the affidavit said. Romano met with the person in a capacity unrelated to his job as a detective. That’s when the person, identified in the affidavit as Witness #1, “provided Detective Romano with specific details unknown to law enforcement or to the public about the robbery,” including how it was planned and carried out and that Bryant was the sole person who planned and committed it, the affidavit said.
Witness #1 also provided Romano with details of actions taken by him and two others, identified in the affidavit as Witness #2 and Witness #3, to cover up the crime, the affidavit said.
Romano immediately reported details of his meeting with Witness #1 to his direct supervisor at the Howell Police Department as well as the FBI agent, who went on to contact Witness #2 and Witness #3, according to the affidavit. Those unnamed witnesses acknowledged their actions in aiding Bryant after the robbery, the affidavit said.
“It should be noted, details provided by the three witnesses make it evident that they were not involved in the planning or in the commission of the robbery,” the affidavit said. “However, assistance was provided by the witnesses with hiding the stolen money, destroying evidence (including an imitation firearm) and altering the appearance of Travis Bryant’s work van that he used during the commission robbery.”
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In late September, a detective from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office assisted the FBI agent in taking formal, typewritten statements from the three, unnamed witnesses, the affidavit said. Their statements were corroborated by facts obtained during the initial investigation, including a statement obtained form the victim, the affidavit said.
Neither the affidavit or the news release mentioned any charges against the three unnamed witnesses or explained the almost two-year time lapse between when Witness #1 first contacted the Howell detective and when detectives took formal statements from all three and subsequently arrested Bryant.
Bryant is being held at the Monmouth County jail, awaiting a first court appearance and detention hearing to determine if he will continue to remain in jail without bail to await trial in the case.