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Long IslandCrime

After 17 years, police arrest suspect in LI bank heist

Nassau County Police Chief of Detectives Steven Skrynecki,

Nassau County Police Chief of Detectives Steven Skrynecki, left, speaks about the apprehension of Claude S. Bird, photo shown on right, wanted for a bank robbery that occurred 17 years ago in Lake Success. (May 10, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Claude S. Bird managed to elude police for 17 years - fleeing the country after robbing a Lake Success bank, escaping a Jamaican prison, sneaking back into the United States via Canada and assuming a dead man's identity, authorities said.

But in the end, it was a simple driver's license application, police said, that may ultimately bring him to justice.

Five years ago, Bird obtained a New York State driver's license under the name Faraj Bilal, a dead man from the Midwest with no connection to Bird, authorities said.

In April, Bird tried to get a New York license under his real name. The state Department of Motor Vehicles became suspicious when workers discovered that the agency had previously issued a license to Bird under Bilal's name, authorities said.

DMV officials, who declined to say how they broke the case, alerted Nassau police earlier this month.

On Friday, Nassau police arrested Bird, 37, after he left his Bronx apartment at 3883 Amundson Ave., where he had been living with his wife and five children, police said.

Bird was arraigned May 14 on one count of first-degree robbery in First District Court in Hempstead. He's due back in court on June 1.

The armed robbery, which occurred on March 8, 1993, was an "inside job," said Steve Skrynecki, Nassau police chief of detectives, who worked the case when he was a detective sergeant.

Police said two masked gunmen - one of them Bird - invaded the bank, an EAB branch in Lake Success, minutes after an armored car had made a delivery. The men stole $240,000 and fled in a car driven by Norman Palmer, then 21 and from Baldwin. None of the money was recovered.

Within days of the armed robbery, Nassau police arrested Palmer and a bank teller, Nadine Smith, then 23, of Queens. Each was convicted of first-degree robbery and served prison time. Police said they have been searching for Bird and a fourth robber, known only as "Angel."

Almost immediately after the robbery, Bird fled to his native Jamaica. Nassau police found Bird in the island nation in 1994 but he escaped a Jamaican jail while authorities waited for his extradition papers.

Sometime in 1994 or 1995, Bird, who is not a U.S. citizen, drove from Canada and illegally re-entered the United States via Detroit, police said.

Ten years later, Bird secured a driver's license using Bilal's name and lived in the Bronx using his identity, police said. Earlier this year, Bird, who told investigators he was unemployed and had worked as a barber, was arrested on a shoplifting charge upstate and that may be one reason why Bird tried to reclaim his name, Skrynecki said.

The other reason, Skrynecki said, was that Bird was trying to get citizenship for his wife and children.

On a quiet block of two-story brick row houses Monday night, Bronx neighbors who live next door to Bird said they didn't know their neighbor's name and that he and his wife kept to themselves.

"I've seen them around but I never communicate with them," said a neighbor who didn't want to be identified.

A teenager who answered the door to the Bird home said his mother wasn't home.

With Keith Wagstaff



Police followed Bird's 17-year trail


1993: Lake Success bank is robbed of nearly quarter of a million dollars

1994: Claude S. Bird escapes jail in Jamaica while authorities waited for his extradition papers.

1994-95: Suspect returns to United States via Canada and eventually winds up living in the Bronx.

2005: Bird obtains a driver's license under the name Faraj Bilal, a dead man from the Midwest, and assumes his identity.

2010: Bird is caught trying to obtain a driver's license under his real name.

Source: Nassau County police department

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