- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2003

An American couple arrested in South Africa in connection with a series of violent U.S. bank robberies will be extradited to the United States early next week, federal law enforcement authorities said yesterday.

South African police working with intelligence from the FBI’s Phoenix field office arrested Craig Michael Pritchert, 40, and Nova Esther Guthrie, 30, on Tuesday.

Dubbed a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, the two are wanted in connection with six bank heists in the American Southwest and Pacific Northwest during the late-1990s, according to a statement issued by the FBI.

The U.S. Marshals Service yesterday said the couple had been processed in South Africa and were ready for extradition to the United States for trial.

“We just need to go there and get them,” said Brenda McLaughlin, a deputy marshal in Phoenix.

Mr. Pritchert and Miss Guthrie are believed by the FBI to have used money from their robbery spree to lead lavish lives, snow skiing during the winter and lounging on some of the world’s most famous beaches during the summer.

The bureau’s statement said the couple moved from place to place “by the use of aliases and false identities,” passing through Belize and British Columbia before ending up in South Africa.

The FBI wouldn’t comment on how much the couple may have robbed, although the holdup style attributed to them suggests they made off with tens of thousands of dollars.

Federal and local law enforcement officials in Arizona have been hunting Mr. Pritchert since 1997 when he was suspected of robbing several tellers at gunpoint at a bank in Scottsdale. In all, he has warrants outstanding in Arizona, Oregon, Colorado and New Mexico. Suspected of involvement in several of the robberies, Ms. Guthrie has warrants outstanding in New Mexico and Oregon.

The FBI said Mr. Pritchert will first be tried in federal court in Phoenix, where he is wanted on one count of armed bank robbery for the 1997 holdup. It was not clear yesterday where Miss Guthrie will be tried first.

Mr. Pritchert is accused of working with a male accomplice during a 1997 Halloween heist in Durango, Colo., although the FBI provided no other details about the male accomplice. During that robbery, the bureau said, the two appeared to communicate with a third person by hand-held radio.

Mr. Pritchert also is suspected of acting alone in one robbery, in Montana, but the FBI said that in other robberies, including one in Aztec, N.M., a masked getaway driver waited for him. While the FBI did not say explicitly it believes Miss Guthrie was the driver, the bureau implied it suspects that was her role.

The couple’s tactics were seen as becoming more sophisticated as they robbed more banks. Mr. Pritchert is believed to have spoken with an accomplice via a radio headset during one heist in 1998 in Dickerson, Texas, in which the robber wore a wig tied into a ponytail and was armed with a chrome revolver. During the final robbery attributed to the couple, the gunman carried a police scanner, which he monitored.

Special Agent Susan Herskovits, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Phoenix office, described the robberies as “among the more violent.”

“They always used a gun … and pointed it at people, pointed it at their heads, scaring the tellers,” she said. “By the end of his spree he was binding the victims. In one case he used a plastic zip-tie.”

Saying the couple was apprehended at a residence in Cape Town, South Africa, the FBI did not provide details of the arrest. Miss Guthrie was believed to have been managing an upscale nightclub in Cape Town called “Basanova,” and Mr. Pritchert apparently was not working, Agent Herskovits said.

The FBI’s Phoenix office took the lead in catching the couple by coordinating a manhunt that last month involved Interpol and the FBI’s legal attache in Pretoria, South Africa, who got the South African police involved.

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