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Robber briefly holds cash, attention; Case facts end suspect's short reign as folk hero

Reports that a well-dressed, elderly man robbed a downtown bank Thursday morning and a clear surveillance photograph of the septuagenarian suspect captivated the region for a few hours.

But by the time the West Seneca man was arrested at Seneca Niagara Casino, and details of the robbery, his criminal background and his threat to use violence against bank employees who knew him by name emerged, any chance of him achieving folk-hero status disappeared.

Jack C. Znajmiecki, 75, of Dirkson Avenue, is expected to be arraigned this morning in Buffalo City Court on charges of first-degree robbery and felony criminal possession of stolen property.

Znajmiecki threatened to shoot people during the Thursday morning holdup at the M&T Bank branch at Fountain Plaza and was nabbed just hours later by state troopers at the casino, according to Buffalo police reports.

The dapper Znajmiecki, who had been at the casino earlier Thursday morning, arrived at the downtown branch, where he often banked, at about 9:30 a.m., clad in a full suit with a red tie.

Police reports state that he approached a bank teller, who recognized him and knew him by name, and passed her a bank deposit slip. On the back of the slip was written: "This is a robbery, do as you are told."

After reading the note, the teller asked Znajmiecki: "Excuse me?", police reports stated.

The elderly robber told her: "Give me all your hundreds and fifties or I take my gun out and I start shooting people."

Police reports said the teller then opened her top cash drawer and provided Znajmiecki with the cash from her drawer. "Give me all of it," he told her.

Znajmiecki allegedly picked up the money, placed it in his coat pocket and left the bank through the door to Main Street, according to police reports. No weapon was displayed.

Dennis J. Richards, chief of detectives for the Buffalo Police, said bank officials and police quickly tied up the case.

Znajmiecki was tracked to the casino after it was learned he had visited an ATM there earlier Thursday. State police were alerted, found him and apprehended him.

"Unfortunately for the robbery suspect, he had an account at the bank and was known to the bank personnel," Richards said. "It wasn't a standard 'whodunit.' "

Znajmiecki was taken to Buffalo's Central District station house, where he was arrested and booked just after 4 p.m.

"When asked by Lt. Robert Rosenswie why he robbed the bank, [Znajmiecki] told him, 'Because I needed the money,' " Richards said.

The case captivated visitors to The News' website Thursday and was one of the day's most viewed and talked-about stories, even when little more than the fact that a well-dressed man in his 70s had robbed a downtown bank branch was posted.

A sampling of early comments to the website ranged from "Way to go Grandpa!" from an Amherst woman to a writer from Buffalo joking that "If you find him, ask how much he needs and we'll take up a collection. Ouch, now gotta add lawyer fees on top of that."

The mood of readers seemed to shift after Znajmiecki's arrest and details began to emerge about the circumstances of the robbery.

"Ummmm, is it lost on all of you that he robbed a bank to go to a casino. I'm missing the reason for sympathy for him," wrote Renee Derouche of Orchard Park just before 6:30 p.m. "The guy's a crook whether he's 20 or 75. Are you kidding me?"

Added Rick Bridenbaker of West Seneca a short time later, still with some levity: "Note to future bank robbers -- robbing banks is NOT like going to Cheers -- you DON'T want to go where everyone knows your name :)"

Richards, when asked about the apparent public fascination with the case, admitted it was "unusual." "He doesn't quite fit the mold of usual bank robbery suspects," said Richards. "Police certainly take all bank robberies seriously, especially in instances such as this where even the threat of a weapon being used heightens the level of danger."

It's not the first time Znajmiecki has had a run-in with the law.

He served a 2 1/2 - to 7-year prison term after being convicted in 1998 of felony criminal possession of stolen property.

Znajmiecki shoplifted thousands of dollars worth of health and beauty products over a lengthy period of time from Hills Department stores around the region. He and a Lackawanna man were nabbed by police in May 1997 when officers found numerous garbage bags filled with merchandise in the back of their car.

Public records also show Znajmiecki had a $506 lien against him last March on a state tax warrant and a judgment was issued against him for $2,677 in 1994 for funds owed to the Erie County Department of Social Services.

Further details into those cases were unavailable late Thursday.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com