- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The FBI and a Pennsylvania man accused in a series of bank extortions are awaiting a ruling in federal court on the legality of search warrants in the case.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley hasn’t said when he might rule in the case against 43-year-old Michael Benanti of Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania, The Knoxville News Sentinel (https://bit.ly/1XWZDoc) reported.

“If I find the (first) search warrant bad, all these others are bad,” Shirley said.

Benanti is charged in a 23-count indictment accusing him of kidnappings, carjackings, bank robbery and extortions. The charges arise from an alleged plot with co-defendant Brian Witham to kidnap bank executives and their families and forcing them to withdraw money from their banks.

One of the kidnappings occurred in Knoxville, one in Oak Ridge and one in Elizabethton.

Benanti was arrested in November following a high-speed chase. The arrest led to the discovery of a list of future extortion victims and a bag of gear that could be used to surveil people.

The note and bag led to several of the FBI’s search warrants, which generated more evidence.

Benanti’s attorneys, Robert Kurtz and Richard Gaines, challenged the legality of Benanti’s arrest and the search warrants. Kurtz said that there is no evidence that Benanti has done anything illegal.

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Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com


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