Bank robbery suspect says he gave to the poor
Donaldson says he gave money away, sought to make a statement on wealth, homelessness.
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: February 15, 2013
When it came to raising money for the unfortunate, accused bank robber Corey Allan Donaldson said he wanted to think outside the box.
The 39-year-old Australian was three days away from surrendering to police when Clinton, Utah, cops arrested him on a bank robbery charge, he said Monday. His goal had been to raise awareness about the plight of America’s homeless, he said.
During the month between New Year’s Eve, when he said he stole $140,750 from the U.S. Bank in Jackson, and his Jan. 22 arrest, Donaldson said he traveled the West giving the money to people he found living in shelters and on the streets.
“I regret that laws had to be broken to do what I did,” he said in a phone interview from the Sweetwater County Detention Center in Rock Springs, “but there are people with a roof over their heads right now because of what I did.
“It’s possible that people are alive right now because of what I did,” he said, “and I don’t regret that aspect of it.”
Donaldson’s “Robin Hood” jailhouse interview is the latest twist in the tale of an Australian who married a pen pal from Utah, moved to the U.S. 17 years ago and made a career as a self-help author and counselor.
In December, he drove up to Jackson and allegedly committed the area’s largest bank robbery in decades.
Federal marshals moved Donaldson out of the Rock Springs jail Tuesday. He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Cheyenne today for a preliminary hearing.
At the time of his interview with the News&Guide, Donaldson had not met with his lawyer, federal public defender Jim Barrett.
“Everything right now is very uncertain,” he said. “Metaphorically speaking, I’m putting myself on the cross. I’m hoping the authorities will see that I’m not a villain.”
Months of planning
When Donaldson entered U.S. Bank on New Year’s Eve, his robbery plan was the culmination of months of planning and self-awakening, he said.
As recently as 10 years ago, a subsidiary of Random House was publishing Donaldson’s self-help books. He still owns at least one online relationship consulting business, DiagnoseMyWife.com.
However, he said, his recent professional life has been far from perfect. A “catastrophic business failure” he declined to discuss left him “pretty much homeless” between July and October 2012.
“I slept on concrete next to these guys,” he said. “I slept on grass. In a country with so much to give, I was witnessing suffering on a level I didn’t think was justified in America.”
At the same time, he said he considered how much money a megabank like U.S. Bank has and thought that maybe some of that money belonged in the pockets of the people he was meeting.
In fact, Donaldson said, he hopes one of the things that will come of his first brush with the American criminal justice system is that U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo will form a multi-million dollar fund to assist the nation’s poor. In return, he offered to consult with them to point out the flaws he exploited in their security systems.
“I feel like I also showed those big banks that a doofus with no criminal record could break through all their security measures and get away,” he said. “The amount of flaws in their security system are just unreal. I’d be willing to make it a win-win situation for those banks and help them identify where those flaws are, I just want them to do their part to end suffering in America.”
While Donaldson declined to discuss the planning and research that went into the New Year’s Eve heist, his court file suggests it must have been extensive.
Federal authorities say that after entering a private meeting with the bank’s manager, Donaldson demanded $2 million out of the bank’s vault. He allegedly backed up his demand with a note claiming the bank was wired with four military-grade explosives that compatriots would detonate if things didn’t go as he asked.
He is charged with making off with $140,750.
He sported a goatee, wore a hat and spoke with a fake South African accent during the crime, court files allege.
Donaldson in fact speaks with a recognizable Australian accent. He grew up in Melbourne with 10 brothers and sisters and has been back several times since moving to the United States to marry.
He divorced in 2006.
It took 22 days for law enforcement to track Donaldson down. Federal and local authorities followed leads in Utah, Colorado and Maine as they chased the license plate number on a Toyota Tundra pickup truck linked to the robber.
To find him sooner, they should have been searching the homeless shelters and underpasses of Reno, Nev., Donaldson said.
Between the time he got away and the time he got caught, he said, he gave away between $55,000 and $65,000 to charitable organizations and needy individuals. That leaves about $60,000 unaccounted for.
Neither the Salvation Army headquarters in Reno nor the Reno branch of Volunteers of America returned phone calls to confirm Donaldson’s gifts, but both were among the organizations he said benefitted. For example, he said he gave the Salvation Army $15,000 cash.
However, Donaldson said, most of the money went to people he met on the streets.
His trips around Reno’s “homeless hangouts” were at least as eye-opening as his own time on the streets, Donaldson said.
He met people whose only wish in the middle of January was one night in a hotel. Donaldson said he gave those people enough money for a month’s stay.
One young woman in a homeless shelter grew up in shelters, he claimed. Her young baby and the one she had on the way might well have the same life, he said. Several thousand dollars of the heist money went to her, he said.
“In those moments, I can tell you the money was better off in their hands than in the U.S. Bank’s,” he said. “I’m not sure how much I gave to each person. I wasn’t keeping a budget, because as I saw it, it wasn’t my money.”
The man who eventually led police to their suspect was someone Donaldson said he most wanted to help.
He had been Donaldson’s best friend for 16 of the 17 years he has lived in the United States. He also owns the pickup truck police saw Donaldson driving in security footage from a Jackson Maverik station.
$16,000 for friend
The friend and witness lives in the Syracuse, Utah, area, according to court files. Donaldson planned to stop at his house to drop off $16,000 to help the man’s family before heading to Salt Lake City to dispose of the rest of the money, he said. He intended to spend three days in Salt Lake City, donating the roughly $40,000 he said he had left at that point, then turn himself in and confess.
Donaldson called his friend at least 10 times throughout the day and was growing worried by the time he arrived at the man’s house, he said. He knocked on the door, but received no answer, he said.
He knows now that his friend must have been inside the whole time.
It was only a few blocks away that police surrounded the cab Donaldson was riding in and took him to the Davis County Jail in Farmington, Utah.
“I still love the man,” Donaldson said. “He’s a big, freaking teddy bear. I can only believe the police must have coerced him in some way for him to have done that.”
His strategy may have been cut short, but Donaldson said he is exactly where he intended to end up.
Turning himself in was always part of his plan, he said.
“If I had not planned to confess, there really would have been no way to make this about awareness of the suffering of the homeless,” he said. “There’s no way I’ll ever do it again. Once is just plenty I think.
“I’m hoping for a fair shake from the court system, and hoping the authorities will see that I’m just trying to help.”