Port Townsend man charged in Tacoma bank robbery, suspected in others

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND -- A Port Townsend man has been identified as the "John Doe bandit" who is accused of robbing a bank in Tacoma and is suspected in a string of bank robberies in Seattle, San Francisco and Sacramento.

Michael J. Fenter, 40, is not suspected of robbing any banks on the North Olympic Peninsula, FBI spokeswoman Roberta Burroughs said.

Burroughs confirmed that Fenter is associated with Compass Rose Farm, south of Port Townsend.

Fenter is a graduate of the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, and had worked for Sea Marine in Port Townsend.

"He was a ship builder and a farmer," Burroughs said.

Fenter was charged with bank robbery and being armed with a firearm in commission of a violent felony in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Friday.

Arraigned this week

He is expected to be arraigned next week.

KIRO-TV reported that Fenter was described in court has having a sizeable income, and that Fenter's wife, Kateen Fenter, watched her husband appear in court.

Fenter was booked in the Pierce County jail as John Doe after refusing to identify himself when he was arrested on Oct. 8 on investigation of robbing a Bank of America in Tacoma the day before.

He had been held in lieu of $10 million bail, with an FBI hold on his release, until he was transferred from the Pierce County jail to federal custody Thursday.

The FBI is investigating Fenter for involvement in other bank robberies. No formal charges have been filed against him in connection with those robberies.

FBI agents believe Fenter robbed a Washington Mutual in Seattle on Feb. 4. That robbery resulted in building evacuations and street closures when a suspicious bag was left behind in the bank.

Fenter is also being investigated for two other bank robberies in California, one in San Francisco in April and one in Sacramento in August.

Armed bank robbery

Fenter is accused of robbing $73,000 from the Bank of America branch on Tacoma's Ninth Street on Oct. 7.

The complaint for violation, which the U.S. District Court unsealed Friday, gave this account:

Fenter was armed with a .40-caliber Glock handgun and an explosive device.

He approached the assistant manager, saying he represented a group of people who were angry with the government, the FBI said. He said he had a bomb that his partner could detonate from outside the bank.

Fenter told the employee that she had 10 minutes to fill a bag he provided with cash. He was wearing a light colored shirt, a ball cap, glasses and a bleached goatee -- which apparently was fake.

Another bank employee called 9-1-1 during the robbery. Tacoma Police officers arrested Fenter outside the bank.

The explosive device was made of commercial-grade blasting caps, the FBI said.

Patrick Henry

FBI agents said Fenter originally claimed his name was Patrick Henry. He covered his fingerprints with a glue-like substance.

Fingerprints were taken after his fingertips were cleaned with acetone.

The FBI leaned that the firearm was registered to Fenter. A copy of his driver's license was obtained from the state Department of Licensing, and agents found a vehicle registered to him.

Fenter still refused to confirm his identity.

A 2007 story in the weekly Port Townsend Leader said that Fenter, his wife, their three children and other family members raised crops at the farm.

The 40-acre Compass Rose Farm is a Jefferson Land Trust protected property project.

ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia, a founding partner of the Jefferson LandWorks Collaborative, financed the property purchase and allowed the Fenters to use the proceeds from the conservation easement to do infrastructure improvements on the property, according to the The Washington State University Extension service in Jefferson County.

Sarah Spaeth, Jefferson Land Trust executive director, declined to comment.

"We're not prepared to make any comment," Spaeth said Friday.

"We were just as shocked as anyone, and we don't have any comment to make at this time."

A call to Compass Rose Farm was not returned on Friday.


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 18. 2009 12:27AM
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