Last week, a local media outlet reported on the story of a 1969 downtown Cleveland bank robbery mystery that, after 52 years, had finally been solved. According to a news release from the U.S. Marshals Service, “On Friday July 11, 1969, Theodore John Conrad walked into his job at the Society National Bank at 127 Public Square in Cleveland as an ordinary bank teller. He walked out at the end of the day with $215,000 (equivalent to over $1.7 million in 2021) in a paper bag and vanished”; Conrad was only 20 years old at the time.
Earlier this month, federal officials were finally able to identify Theodore John Conrad as a man who relocated in the Boston area. Authorities determined that Conrad had moved to the Boston area following the heist and lived there under an assumed name and identity. Unfortunately, law enforcement’s discovery was only a few months too late – Conrad died of lung cancer in May 2021 and the money was long gone.
But what if authorities were able to untangle Conrad’s web and locate him before his death? Could he even be prosecuted for his crimes that occurred over a half-century ago?
In general, federal law places a five-year statute of limitations on offenses such as those allegedly committed by Conrad. This means that an individual cannot be “prosecuted, tried or punished for any offense” unless they are indicted (charged) within five years of the date of the offense. See 18 U.S.C. 3282.
Not surprisingly, however, federal law accounts for those would-be criminals who might bank an expired statute of limitations to avoid prosecution. Enter the legal concept of “tolling” (also known as pausing), which causes the statute of limitations to stop running for one or more reasons. One such reason is fugitivity, as federal law specifically provides that, “No statute of limitations shall extend to any person fleeing from justice.” See 18 U.S.C. 3290.
A slightly deeper dig into Conrad’s legal history reveals that his 52 years of avoiding prosecution, though impressive and unusual, was simply not long enough to avoid legal consequences. In fact, no amount of time on the run would have been long enough for Conrad to avoid prosecution because on Sept. 12, 1969, a federal grand jury in Cleveland re-turned an indictment against Conrad for bank embezzlement and making false entries, and a warrant for Conrad’s arrest was issued on Oct. 10, 1969.
Thus, the government complied with the requirement that it indict Conrad within five years of the date of the offense but, even if it had not, the five-year statute of limitations would have been tolled during the five decades that Conrad was a fugitive. If he was captured alive, his prosecution was imminent. While his career path is certainly ill advised, Conrad’s story nevertheless makes for an intriguing tale in the chapters of Cleveland’s history.
Larry W. Zukerman is the managing partner of Zukerman, Lear & Murray, Co., LPA in Cleveland and Adam M. Brown is an associate attorney.
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