COLUMBIA — The biggest heist in recent York County history was pulled off without a gun. No weapons or tools of any kind were needed to rob Wells Fargo bank’s drive-up branch on Cherry Road of $367,629.18 except brazen stealth, and a dominant supervisor and weak subordinate who both grabbed fistfuls of $100 bills from $10,000 packs of cash and replaced the hundreds with singles.
Tina Shaneka Hall, 33, was a teller at the branch, an admittedly malleable underling who trusted her boss, Dionna Shawntae Lowery – whom Hall’s lawyer called “the ringleader” of the scam. Hall – who was trained as a teller and supervised by Lowery – sure grabbed plenty of money.
But just a taste of the $367,000 went to Hall, apparently. The 26-year-old supervisor and lead teller, Dionna Shawntae Lowery, blew through the bulk of the money, U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie said Wednesday, on first-class air tickets around the country. Shopping sprees for designer clothes. Trips to New York City where she stayed in swank five-star hotels. And, according to Hall, the co-conspirator who claims to have been pushed into the scheme by her boss, Lowery spent as much as $4,000 on strippers.
In court, Judge Currie described the spending sprees as the, “bold actions of Ms. Lowery spending the money on frivolities.”
But the trips and the luxury ended when the FBI came calling. Agents asked Tina Hall in February 2013 why more money than President Obama makes in a year was missing from Wells Fargo. In seconds, Hall admitted the whole scam. She told the feds all about Dionna Lowery’s part in the scam, too.
The duo even scooped up change
The end came Wednesday afternoon in federal court when Hall was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison after pleading guilty last year.
The prison in Alderson, W.V., is known as “Camp Cupcake,” where Judge Currie said in court Martha Stewart served her time. A prison known as the cushiest in America, where there are no cells, no bars, no razor wire.
Hall did not go to that prison Wednesday – she will report to prison in a few weeks after federal marshals prepare a prisons report. She left the courthouse with her mother, grandmother, sister and her admitted shame.
Camp Cupcake is the same prison where Lowery, the alleged ringleader, was sent in January to serve 18 months for her part in the heist.
In court Wednesday, Hall, whom testimony showed receives mental health treatment for manic depression and anxiety, apologized to Judge Currie for her part in the scheme, saying she accepted that she was wrong in being part of the ongoing thefts that lasted for months. Hall claimed that Lowery, the senior employee at the two-person drive-up branch, manipulated her into the thefts. After the stealing started, Hall told Currie “she didn’t know how to get out.”
Hall said she was too afraid of Lowery to plug the money geyser — until police arrived. Lowery, Hall told Judge Currie,“knew where I lived. Who I was with.”
Michael Brown of Rock Hill. Hall’s lawyer, said Wednesday that Lowery, the supervisor, was “the ringleader” but acknowledged that his client received money in the thefts, too.
“Tina Hall is not saying she did no wrong,” Brown said after court. “She accepts what she did. It was wrong. But she sure didn’t stay in the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.”
Hall, who had no prior criminal record, even acknowledged reading in The Herald in January how Currie, the same judge who sentenced Lowery after Lowery pleaded guilty, was incredulous during Lowery’s court sentencing that tellers with no criminal records, who seemed otherwise to be good people, could believe they wouldn’t get caught that after stealing a bank’s money. Hall said she failed to protect herself from Lowery, and also failed her customers, her community, herself and her family.
“I used to be that good person,” Hall told Currie.
After court, Hall in an exclusive interview said that she trusted Lowery, yet Lowery usually counted the money at the branch during the scheme. Hall said she had “no idea” the amount of money stolen was so vast. Lowery took most and Hall got, “what little she (Lowery) gave me.”
“I just want to apologize,” Hall said. “I didn’t buy anything new – I just paid bills.”
Hall said she still has a 10-year-old car and the same house she had before the crime.
Jamie Schoen, the federal prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office who prosecuted both Lowery and Hall, conceded in court that Lowery was the superior in the scam and that Hall “spoke immediately” to police after the crime was uncovered.
Lowery, however, refused to acknowledge any role in the plot for more than four months last year, Schoen said. Lowery eventually was indicted and pleaded guilty. In court in January, Lowery told Currie, the judge, that all the money she took – the bulk of more than $367,000 –was gone.
Wednesday in court, Judge Currie said, “I have no idea who is telling the truth” about how the scam was hatched or who, Hall or Lowery, took the most. Yet, Currie acknowledged that Hall was the subordinate in the plan, so Hall received three months less prison time.
Both women have to pay back all the money in payments of $100 a month. If both pay the sums Currie ordered repaid, the money will be paid back in about 150 years.
Hall, sentenced Wednesday, even thanked Schoen, the prosecutor, after court.
“Good luck,” Schoen said.
Hall told Currie the judge when court was finished, “It was great to meet you.”
Currie, the judge who put both these Rock Hill bank tellers who stole $367,629.18 in jail, said plainly at the end of the Rock Hill bank heist for the ages, “I wish it was under different circumstances.”
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 firstname.lastname@example.org