FBI Knoxville
Public Affairs Specialist Joyce McCants
(865) 544-0751
December 16, 2015

Arrest and Indictment of Armed Bank Extortionists

FBI Special Agent in Charge, Knoxville Division, Edward Reinhold and Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee Nancy Stallard Harr announce the arrest and indictment of Michael Anthony Benanti, age 43, from Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania and Brian Scott Witham, age 45 from Waterville, Maine for their involvement in the armed bank extortions of the Y-12 Federal Credit Union in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on April 28, 2015; SmartBank in Knoxville, Tennessee on July 7, 2015; and the Northeast Community Credit Union in Elizabethton, Tennessee on October 21, 2015.

On November 25, 2015, Michael Benanti and Brian Witham were arrested in Buncombe County, North Carolina by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, in conjunction with the Maggie Valley Police Department, the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, after a vehicle pursuit.

Both were subsequently indicted in the Eastern District of Tennessee, in a 15-count indictment wherein each was charged with aiding and abetting the following violations:

  • Two counts of attempted armed bank extortion
  • One count of armed bank extortion
  • Three counts of carjacking
  • Two counts of brandishing a firearm during an attempted bank extortion
  • One count of brandishing a firearm during a bank extortion
  • Three counts of brandishing a firearm during a carjacking
  • Three counts of felon in possession of a firearm

The indictment is the result of extensive cooperative efforts of numerous law enforcement agencies, including the following:

Knoxville Police Department, Major Crimes Unit; Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Major Crimes Unit; Oak Ridge Police Department; Elizabethton Police Department; North Carolina State Highway Patrol; North Caroline State Bureau of Investigation; Johnson City Police Department, Tennessee; Carter County Police Department, Tennessee; Asheville Police Department, North Carolina; Maggie Valley Police Department, North Carolina; Waynesville Police Department, North Carolina; Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, North Carolina; Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, North Carolina; FBI Asheville Resident Agency, North Carolina; along with the FBI Safe Streets Task Forces composed of officers from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, the Knoxville Police Department, and the Johnson City Police Department.

All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

For more information on the FBI’s Knoxville Division, visit www.fbi.gov/knoxville.