Australian accused of bizarre US heist
Focus of a manhunt ... Corey Allan Donaldson.
LOS ANGELES: An Australian self-help guru accused of using a story about Mexican drug gang members to rob a US bank of $US140,000 ($136,000) has painted himself as a Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to America's desperately poor.
Corey Allan Donaldson, 39, was the focus of a multi-state manhunt involving the FBI after he allegedly strolled into a branch of US Bank in Wyoming's famed ski resort town Jackson Hole on New Year's Eve.
Security footage shows a chubby, bearded man in sunglasses, dressed in a suit jacket, tan pants and wearing what the FBI described as an "English-style driving cap" walking casually out of the bank with a briefcase filled with $US140,750.
"I don't think he's Robin Hood," said Corporal Andy Pearson, of the Jackson Hole Police Department.
"Do I think he has given money away? Yes."
The bizarre case began when Donaldson, referring to himself as an international investor named "Charlie", set up a meeting with the bank's manager, according to the FBI in documents filed in Wyoming's US District Court.
During the meeting, Charlie said he owned a business in Mexico, was robbed and then four men who were Vietnam veterans and involved with a drug cartel approached him with an offer to help find the people responsible for the theft.
The bank manager said Charlie then recounted a story about how the Vietnam vets took Charlie up in a helicopter with two unknown males, asked one of the males about the theft and, when he refused to answer, tied a rope around the man, lowered him out the helicopter and "dragged him until the only thing left was a bloody rope".
The bank manager told authorities that when he reached for an alarm button under his desk, Charlie warned members of the drug cartel had given him a note which said "four military grade explosives" were placed outside the bank and if he did not comply with their demands there "will be blood and carnage" and the manager would be "hunted down and killed".
The note demanded $US2 million, but the manager went to the vault and handed over $US140,750, according to court documents.
Authorities say they were able to identify Donaldson as Charlie by tracking down the public telephone where the call was made to organise the meeting with the bank manager. The phone was in a general store and a check of the store's security footage identified the number plate of a Toyota Tundra registered in Utah.
The owner of the Toyota allegedly told police Donaldson borrowed his car and on January 23 Utah police arrested Donaldson, finding just $US16,000.
In an interview from jail with the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Donaldson said he travelled America's west handing out the cash to people living in shelters and on the streets, as well as charitable organisations.
Corporal Pearson said the police investigation confirmed this was correct.
He gave "several thousand dollars" to a young pregnant woman struggling to look after another child, the newspaper said.
"There are people with a roof over their heads right now because of what I did," Donaldson told the newspaper. He said he moved from Australia to the US 17 years earlier to marry a pen pal who lived in Utah.
"It's possible that people are alive right now because of what I did, and I don't regret that aspect of it."
Donaldson, who claimed to have been homeless after a failed business venture, wrote self-help books published by a subsidiary of Random House and owns the relationship consulting business www.diagnosemywife.com, according to the newspaper.
Donaldson has been denied bail because he was deemed a "flight risk" and is being held in a federal jail facility in Nebraska.