A guy storms into a Wells Fargo Bank branch in Aurora, Colo., wearing a bee-keeper's mesh.
He blasts an air horn, waves a pistol and forces three tellers and several customers to the floor.
He makes a withdrawal of $25,830 from several teller drawers, and then makes his getaway on a bicycle.
He's doesn't notice the GPS device stashed in the cash. The Aurora police keep a fix on him as he pedals away. Buzz...Buzz...Buzz...
At first he moves slowly like a blip in a video game. Then his pace accelerates -- Buzz-Buzz-Buzz -- as he jumps into a vehicle parked at an unoccupied home.
Police set up a roadblock. In fact, they completely surround a busy intersection, locked and loaded. They yank dozens of innocent people out of their cars and cuff them on the pavement as they hone in on the Bee-Keeper Bandit.
Some of these handcuffed bystanders are as frightened as the victims in the bank. Some wonder what happened to their civil rights. But this is the Orwellian nightmare that GPS technology has delivered, so deal. We must catch the bank robber, you see, just as we must catch the terrorists at the airport. It is in everybody's best interest these days to be detained and searched.
Within 17 minutes of the robbery, police pin down a white Ford Expedition in the intersection they have commandeered. Their strategy, for whatever Constitutional questions it raises, works. It is just not going to be easy robbing banks anymore.
Inside the Expedition, police find a Cherry Creek High School bag stuffed with the robber's clothes and the cash he stuffed in his pockets. There is also a bag used in the sport of figure skating, a Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic and a Walther P22 semiautomatic with loaded magazines, hollow-point bullets, paper shooting-range targets, various disguises, a violin, and of course, a bee-keeper's mesh and an air horn.
This was June 2. Four days earlier, more than 1,000 protesters surrounded Wells Fargo's (NYSE:WFC) downtown Denver office, complaining that the giant bank doesn't pay its fair share of taxes and routinely abuses homeowners through its reckless foreclosure practices. Wells Fargo, long drowning in legal, social and political issues, has helped inspire the soap-box term, "bankster." I am waiting for a symmetrical headline that reads, "Bank Robber Robs Robber Bank."
Fortunately, it looks like GPS technology will keep bank robbers from achieving the populist glory they once achieved in lower-tech times. But it is still amazing when an average middle-class, middle-aged American decides to rob a bank.
Police allege the man they pulled out of the Ford Expedition was Christian Paetsch, a 45-year old music teacher who taught at several area schools. Court documents state Paetsch has no prior criminal record, no history of mental illness, and no drug nor alcohol problems.
He has a wife and a 19-year-old daughter. His daughter is a champion figure skater who placed 10th with her partner in the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. From here, you can imagine the deep ties Paetsch has to his community, including skater moms, esteemed colleagues and music students, several of whom wrote letters to a federal court magistrate on his behalf.
You can also imagine what these letters say. He is such a nice man. He is such an amazing talent. He means so much to all of us. It is just so hard to believe he could be involved in something like this. He is not a danger to the community. He is not a flight risk. Please let him go free.
Paetsch sat cuffed and shackled in a federal courtroom last week as a magistrate acknowledged these letters. He seemed as mild-mannered and polite as the letters attested. His lawyer said he would plead not-guilty--despite the bags of tricks police say they found in his vehicle.
The magistrate then did something that left prosecutors apoplectic. She made a rare exception to rules that suggest anyone who flashes a gun while robbing a bank is not worthy of bail. Many bank robbers, you see, use only a menacing note. This guy is alleged to be the poster child for why we need gun control. Nevertheless, the magistrate agreed to let this beloved music teacher out on a $5,000 unsecured bond, provided that he's detained at home with an ankle bracelet.
Yes, the police handcuffed dozens of innocent citizens in the name of catching a dangerous, gun-toting, bank-robbing desperado, and then the judge simply let the prime suspect out on a signature because he's a really nice music teacher. Paetsch flashed a smile toward about a dozen Paetsch supporters in the courtroom. They all seemed pleased.
I do not know what gets into educated and otherwise intelligent people. One minute they are upstanding members of a community. The next they are accused felons. Maybe it's just financial pressure that might more easily be relieved with a bankruptcy filing.
Paetsch has a daughter in an extremely competitive and expensive sport. He also works in a profession filled with pricey works of art.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Conner told the court that on the day of the robbery Paetsch's wife complained to law-enforcement authorities that her husband had disappeared with a $400,000 violin. The violin found in Paetsch's SUV, however, was only a $1,000 violin. Paetsch's wife explained she was referring to another instrument that still seems to be missing, Conner said. The mystery continues. Conner advised the court that the possibility of a $400,000 violin should be added to Paetsch's financial report.
The case proves once again that people are complicated. They are often more than two people at once. Sitting in court, just inches behind Paetsch, I kept thinking about actor Richard Dreyfuss. He played Baby Face Nelson in the 1973 movie "Dillinger." He also played an exhausted music teacher in the 1995 movie "Mr. Holland's Opus."
What an opus this will be. Paetsch faces 32 years in prison. I hear a violin weeping.
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at firstname.lastname@example.org or tellittoal.com)