FBI charges 2 men with attempted bank extortion in Elizabethton, kidnappings in Knoxville area

Johnson City Press • Dec 16, 2015 at 12:17 PM

KNOXVILLE — The FBI announced Wednesday that two men have been indicted in connection with robbery and kidnapping schemes at area banks, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The two men identified as Michael Benanti, 43, from Lake Harmony, Pa., and Brian Witham, 45, of Waterville, Maine, are accused in the April and July hostage-takings in Knoxville. They also are charged with a similar scheme Oct. 21 in Elizabethton, at the Northeast Community Credit Union.

The Elizabethton Police Department and the Carter County Sheriff’s Department launched a joint investigation after an employee of Northeast Community Credit Union said she had been coerced into trying to withdraw funds that morning.

Capt. Joy Shoun, chief of the Criminal Investigations Division of the Elizabethton Police Department, reported that the incident began around 8 a.m. that day at a residence in the county. Shoun said because a bank was involved, the FBI was also consulted and is assisting in the investigation.

Shoun said it was reported that local bank employee was coerced by unknown people in an attempt to take money from the employee’s place of employment. Shoun said it was also reported that the coercion included threatened violence to the employee and possible family members. Shoun said the transfer of funds was not successful, and no one was injured in the incident.

In the April 28 plot, two armed men kidnapped the wife and teenage son of Mark Zeigler, president and CEO of the Y-12 Federal Credit Union, from their West Knox County home. The wife and son later were left bound but unharmed in their vehicle outside Gettysvue Country Club. The alleged kidnappers escaped, but without any money, the News Sentinel reported.

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