The federal trial is under way for a Pennsylvania man accused of kidnapping family members and robbing or attempting to rob banks and credit unions, including in Oak Ridge and Knoxville.
The trial for Michael Anthony Benanti, 44, of Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania, started with jury selection on Monday in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. It has continued this week.
Benanti and a co-defendant, Brian Scott Witham, 45, of Waterville, Maine, had been named in a 15-count indictment issued by a federal grand jury in December 2015. They were accused of kidnapping family members and robbing or attempting to rob three banks and credit unions in Oak Ridge, Knoxville, and Elizabethton. The Y-12 Federal Credit Union in Oak Ridge was one of the three financial institutions that was targeted.
Witham pleaded guilty March 1, 2016. He received a 42-year sentence and will be the star witness against Benanti, his co-defendant, according to Jamie Satterfield, a Knoxville News Sentinel reporter.
The trial for Benanti could last up to three weeks. Oak Ridge Today has not been able to cover the trial, but Satterfield has been covering it. You can see four of her News Sentinel stories here:
- Ex-con Benanti goes on trial in bank-hostage cases (January 30),
- Jurors hear victims’ testimony in violent bank extortion plot (February 1),
- Agent’s chat with daughter led to break in Michael Benanti case (February 1), and
- Testimony in Michael Benanti trial reveals victims unaware (February 2).
Besides Y-12 Federal Credit Union in Oak Ridge on April 28, 2015, the other two financial institutions targeted in the armed extortion attempts in East Tennessee in 2015 were SmartBank on Advantage Place in Knoxville and Northeast Community Credit Union on Jason Witten Way in Elizabethton, according to prosecutors.
The initial 15 federal charges included bank extortion, attempted bank extortion, carjacking, and brandishing a firearm while committing a crime.
As part of his plea agreement, Witham agreed to plead guilty to similar charges from three other federal jurisdictions, federal officials said last year.
Satterfield has reported that Benanti now faces a 23-count federal indictment “in an alleged four-state crime spree in which bank officials and their families, including children, were attacked in their homes and held hostage in an extortion plot.”
Satterfield reported that the trial could include up to 50 witnesses, including family members who were victims and additional targets in South Carolina. If convicted, Benanti could face more than 300 years behind bars.
See our previous stories on Michael Benanti here.
See our previous stories on the alleged extortions here.