Raleigh ATM robbery suspect was businessman with violent criminal past

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comOctober 14, 2013 

Walter Kevin Johnson, 28, a Raleigh, NC man accused of a string of armed robberies in north Raleigh makes his first appearance on charges in Wake County court Monday, October 14, 2013.

SCOTT SHARPE — ssharpe@newsobserver.com

— Before Walter Kevin Johnson showed up in court Monday to face charges that he carried out a series of kidnappings and ATM robberies last month in and around North Raleigh, he was in court trying to recover money he claimed was owed to his business by a Florida woman.

After sheriff’s deputies in Dade County, Fla., were unable to locate the woman to serve his small claims case against her, Raleigh police say, Johnson, 28, resorted to another source of income that he was familiar with: armed robbery.

Police on Friday charged Johnson, of 6124 Braidwood Court in Raleigh, with 24 robbery, kidnapping and related charges, and more are possible, according to Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue. Johnson spent nearly a decade in prison after being convicted of an armed robbery spree in Orange County in 2001, state records show.

Johnson made his first court appearance Monday. Wake County District Court Judge Ned Mangum ticked of a list of charges against him: nine counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, one count of attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping, three counts of second-degree kidnapping, one count of first-degree burglary, one count of possession of stolen property, one count of larceny of a firearm, two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, two counts of extortion, and one count of larceny of a motor vehicle.

The robbery charges alone could bring 170 years in prison, Mangum said.

Raleigh attorney Matt Faucette appeared on Johnson’s behalf after Johnson’s family contacted him Monday morning. Faucette said he met with Johnson for about an hour before the hearing.

“We prayed together,” Faucette said. “We prayed for his family, and we prayed for all of the victims.”

Faucette added that a lot of people were affected by the crime spree, including Johnson’s wife and 6-week-old son.

Orange County spree

Johnson, a native of Chapel Hill, was 16 when he committed a string of robberies in Orange County that began Jan. 14, 2001, including nine that took place on June 22 of that year. He was convicted in late 2002 and sentenced to prison.

Before Johnson was released, he worked with a work release program as a server at the Washington-Duke Inn in Durham. After his release, on Aug. 2, 2011, he worked full-time at the inn at night, while during the days he started a web-design business, 1855 Media, with offices in the 4200 block of Six Forks Road in North Raleigh.

On Aug. 20, Johnson hired Raleigh attorney John Szymankiewicz to represent him in a small claims case against a woman in Florida who he claimed owed him thousands of dollars after she breached on a contract and then contacted other 1855 Media clients and tried to persuade them to breach their contracts, too, according to the claim he filed in Wake County.

Johnson was seeking $4,686 for work he had performed for the woman’s business in Aventura, Fla., according to his claim. Szymankiewicz said the woman’s efforts to get other 1855 Media clients to breach their contracts would have cost Johnson’s business more than $10,000.

“He was doing search engine optimization,” Szymankiewicz said. “He had monthly subscribers. So that encouragement to breach their contracts would have had significant impact on potentially lucrative agreements.”

Szymankiewicz said he was surprised to hear of Johnson’s arrest and court appearance Monday.

“Wow. I didn’t know that. That’s unfortunate,” Szymankiewicz said. “He was always personable with me. Professional, communicative, prompt and straightforward in all of his dealings.”

Forced to drive to ATMs

On Sept. 22, investigators think, Johnson put on a black motorcycle helmet with a full face shield and robbed a couple leaving a wedding in the 4800 block of Pleasant Valley Road.

Investigators with the Raleigh Police Department and the Wake County Sheriff’s Office soon noticed common threads that connected four more cases where women standing near vehicles in their driveways were approached by an armed man. The gunman would point his weapon at the women and then force them to drive their own vehicles to a nearby ATM, where he robbed them. In a fifth case, a woman resisted, and the man left empty-handed after he assaulted her, Wake deputies reported.

The robberies and kidnappings ended Sept. 27.

Johnson was apprehended at 1:15 p.m. Friday when he was stopped while driving a sedan on Glenwood Avenue, just west of downtown Raleigh, police said.

Johnson’s arrest and the assurance from police that he was responsible for the string of robberies has brought some peace to residents. Krista Summitt, a software marketer who has lived in Northwest Raleigh for 20 years, said she had trouble sleeping at night until Friday’s arrest.

“You kind of just felt like your peace and safe haven had been invaded,” Summitt said. “It was just like every time – and I do mean every time – I would go outside I would look around. I never ever had to do that before. It was very, very scary.”

Johnson remained in custody at the Wake County jail Monday night under $2.46 million bail.

News researchers Susan Ebbs and Peggy Neal contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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