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Serial bank robber stung by hidden GPS device

Chicago Bureau FBI 1997 mugshot Sharkey Elam charged with robbery bank Water Tower

Chicago Bureau of the FBI 1997 mugshot of Sharkey Elam, charged with robbery of bank in the Water Tower

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Updated: February 14, 2013 6:46AM

Serial bank robber Sharkey Elam felt the familiar heft of a stack of crisp $20 bills in his hand as he made his latest getaway Thursday afternoon, prosecutors say.

But the 67-year-old veteran of more than a dozen heists may have been deceived by his own eyes and touch. A teller at a downtown First American Bank had handed the robber just $80 — four $20 bills sandwiched around a phony, hollowed out stack of cash containing a GPS tracking device.

Elam would soon be experiencing another familiar feeling — arrest, by Chicago cops.

Suspected of robbing six banks since Dec. 5, Elam was nabbed shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday — just 20 minutes and 2.2 miles from the First American Bank he’d allegedly robbed at 33 W. Monroe.

One of the city’s most persistent bank robbers, Elam has previously endured nicknames including the “Lunchbag bandit” and the “Pot-bellied bandit” but has lost weight since he was described two decades ago by an FBI spokesman as a “big fat slob who looked like he swallowed a basketball.” He has also served lengthy prison sentences for previous bank robbery convictions in 1989, 1993 and 1997.

According to a federal complaint filed Friday, none of those indignities was enough to persuade him to stop.

He’d already allegedly targeted the Loop branch of First American Bank during his recent crime spree on Dec. 26. And when he went back Thursday to rob it again, he told a teller, “Don’t say anything, just give the money. I only want hundreds,” the complaint alleges.

Instead, the teller handed him the disguised tracking device.

In addition to the First American robberies, Elam is suspected of robbing a Bank of America at 2401 N. Clark on Jan. 5, and three other banks. He was ordered held without bail Friday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael T. Mason.

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