By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
CRANSTON, R.I. -- A convicted bank robber from Toledo fooled prison authorities here into letting him go by giving them fake release papers he had printed on a prison computer, federal authorities said.
Within five hours of walking out of prison, they said, Scott Kelly Hansen had returned to his life's work: He robbed another bank.
Local officials believe Hansen, who disappeared Friday, is headed back to Toledo, where he has been convicted of robbing four banks and is charged in at least three other robberies.
"This is a phenomenal set of circumstances, especially knowing Scott," said Dave Harlow, the supervisory deputy in the U.S. Marshal's Toledo office. "To be honest, I didn't give him credit for being this bright. Scott was just an average Joe."
Hansen, 38, had been in federal custody in Rhode Island since being captured in a Warwick, R.I., hotel room on June 6. He had been the subject of a manhunt by federal, state, and local officials after a three-month spree in which he allegedly robbed at least four banks in northwest Ohio and three more in Rhode Island.
After his capture, Hansen had formal charges in six of those robberies and had the prospect of a possible prison sentence of 80 to 100 years.
But he saw a way to avoid doing time. According to federal authorities, this is how he walked out of Rhode Island's Adult Corrections Institute, a maximum-security prison:
Hansen gained access to a prison computer, probably one in the medical unit in which he worked, Mr. Harlow said.
Having spent years in the federal court system, Hansen knew what a federal court order looked like. On the computer, he forged an order from U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres releasing him.
On Friday morning, Hansen was in a prison common area where inmates spend some of their day. Inmates are allowed to use a bank of telephones there, but they cannot call other phones in the prison.
One exception is allowed, though: inmates can call a special investigative unit housed inside the prison that checks allegations of criminal activity in the institution. Officers in the unit rely on prisoners' tips to do their work, so prisoners are allowed to call them. Such calls are recorded.
Hansen called the investigative unit, pretended to be a federal marshal, and said he had "accidentally" called the unit. He asked the person who answered the phone if he could be transferred to the record division, which he said he had meant to call.
The call was patched through.
Once he was talking to a clerk in records, Hansen pretended that he was John Leyden, who is the U.S. marshal for Rhode Island.
He asked if one Scott Kelly Hansen had been released yet. When the clerk said no, "Mr. Leyden" said one of his deputies had left the release papers in a nurse's station at the prison, according to Mr. Harlow. Hansen apparently had access to the nurse's station and had left the fake court order there.
Hansen included a forged memo from a court officer dictating the terms of Hansen's bail.
The clerk, whose name has not been released, found the papers, which featured a court seal and Judge Torres's forged signature. The clerk then signed the release paper.
At 2:30 p.m., Hansen walked out of prison.
"It was very well thought out," Mr. Harlow said.
Prison officials did not notice the ruse until local police received evidence that Hansen had returned to his life of crime. Undisguised, Hansen robbed a Rhode Island bank of about $7,000 just five hours after walking out of prison, authorities said.
Only after an officer viewing a surveillance tape of that robbery recognized Hansen did anyone check to see if he was still in custody.
Now, Hansen may be headed back to his hometown, Toledo.
"My experience with Scott Hansen is that this is where he comes," Mr. Harlow said. "He has family, friends, a support system. There's a good chance he's coming back."
He said that the U.S. Marshal's office has contacted dozens of people who have had contact with Hansen in the past, in the hopes that one of them might call authorities if they see him.
Toledo police and the FBI are on the lookout.
Hansen has been a familiar face to Toledo law enforcement agencies for almost three decades. His rap sheet traces his criminal activity to age 11. He admitted robbing a Huntington National Bank in 1984, a holdup for which he was sent to prison.
Two months after being released in 1991, he admitted to robbing three more banks.
During the prison term that resulted, Hansen twice helped prosecutors in high-profile murder cases.
In 1993, he testified that Jeffrey McDermott had confessed to him that he had killed Elwood "Poe" McKown, a local fence company owner. McDermott eventually confessed to the murder, but denied telling Hansen about it.
In 1996, Hansen testified against local attorney Richard Neller, then accused of the 1981 disappearance of his secretary, Cynthia Anderson. Hansen said Neller, who had been Hansen's defense attorney in a previous case, had confessed to having Miss Anderson killed.
But U.S. District Judge John Potter ruled that Hansen's testimony was not enough to prove any link to the disappearance.
The testimony got Hansen an early release from prison, though. Judge Potter released him in October, 1997, in exchange for his Neller testimony.
Hansen entered the federal witness protection program. But within months he was robbing banks again, authorities said.
Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, the maximum-security prison is conducting an internal-affairs investigation into the escape. An outside consultant has been asked to assemble a report on operations in the record bureau.
Rhode Island's state police and the FBI are investigating.
Prison spokesman Al Bucci said the prison rarely has federal inmates - usually no more than a dozen at a time, most of them female - and that staff members were apparently just fooled by Hansen's documents.
"Fifty thousand documents go through that office every year, including 16,000 commitments and discharges," he said. "The paperwork corroborated his story."
Mr. Bucci said this wasn't the first time that the prison has released someone it shouldn't have. He estimated that there have been three or four other cases in the last four years, but those were because of mistakes by administrators, not an inmate's attempts at fraud, he said.
Hansen is the first "erroneous release" to have been jailed on serious charges, he said.
Mr. Bucci said he was "absolutely shocked" to hear of Hansen's escapade.
"He masterminded this whole thing by himself," he said. "It's amazing that someone had this foresight. I wish he had put his energies into something good instead of something bad."
In Ohio, Hansen is charged with three robberies: the March 24 robbery of the Charter One Bank branch at 4260 Monroe St.; the March 28 robbery of a Fifth Third Bank in Findlay; and the April 10 robbery of a KeyBank branch in Fostoria.
He is a suspect in the April 6 robbery of the KeyBank at 1950 South Reynolds Rd.
All four Toledo-area robberies matched what authorities said is the standard Scott Kelly Hansen bank robbery: a slender man with a baseball cap approaches the counter with a note stating he has a gun and demanding money.
Hansen is a white male, about 5 feet 11 inches tall and 140 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.
He sometimes wears glasses. He has gone by the names Scott Edwards and Jonathan Murphy.Posted by Joshua Benton at November 17, 1998 08:59 PM