A man has pleaded guilty to charges connected to armed robbery and extortion just over a year after a scary ordeal played out between New Britain and Bristol.
Brian Witham, 45, of Waterville, Maine, pleaded guilty in his involvement in several armed bank extortions in Tennessee, but part of his plea agreement was that he also plead guilty to similar charges in Connecticut, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He is charged with armed robbery, attempted bank extortion of the Achieve Financial Credit Union in New Britain, felon in possession of a firearm and several other charges.
The Connecticut part of the ordeal began on February 23, 2015. Around 8 a.m. a home invasion was reported at 133 Lufkin Lane in Bristol, the home of Matthew Yussman. Yussman is the CFO of the Achieve Financial Credit Union in New Britain.
Shortly after the home invasion was reported, police found an adult male in a car in the parking lot of the Achieve Financial Credit Union at 450 West Main St. in New Britain. SWAT, bomb squads, the FBI and several local police officers responded and found Yussman with what appeared to be an explosive device strapped to him.
Yussman told officers that multiple attackers broke into his home earlier and attached the device to him, and also attached a similar device to his mother, who was also home during the attack. He said he was then ordered to go to the credit union and clean out the vault. He called the bank's CEO on his way and told him what was going on, The CEO alerted authorities.
It was later determined the explosive devices were fake, but they were made to look very real with an antenna and cell phone receptors. While determining if they devices were real, the investigation caused the entire area to be closed off for several hours that February day.
"I knew they were still out there and I figured they were trying this somewhere else until they got caught," said Yussman.
Yussman says he was treated as a suspect in this case for most of the year, and now he can finally begin to move on.
He said, " It was basically the worst 12 hours of my life and then to have to go through afterwards and be thought of as the suspect and not the victim was not easy either."
Matthew Yussman's mother Valerie said she lived in fear ever since because the men threatened to come back if they didn't get their money.
"It's going to take a long time to truly get over this. I don't know if I ever truly will be," said Valerie Yussman.
Witham was charged in the Connecticut crimes on February 19, according to documents sent to FOX 61 by the U.S. Attorney's Office. He pleaded guilty on Tuesday, March 1, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and will be sentenced by a federal judge August 17 in Tennessee.
Witham's co-defendant, Michael Benanti, 43, of Pennsylvania, is also charged in connection to several of the robberies, though the U.S. Attorney's Office says it can't comment on if he was involved in the Connecticut incident. Police did initially say there were two suspects in the crime.
Benanti heads to trial on March 29.