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Post-Robbery Expenses Won’t Fall to the Thieves

MANHATTAN (CN) - In returning their loot, a serial bank-robbing couple need not cover most charges a bank incurred in connection with their heists, the 2nd Circuit ruled.

John Maynard and Jill Ludwig robbed five banks between September and November 2011 in Vermont and New York. Each time, one of the two would enter the bank alone and pass a note to a teller claiming to have a gun and demanding money. Nobody was ever harmed.

The two were arrested hours after their last robbery on Nov. 2, 2011. They were indicted on three bank-robbery counts and one count of conspiracy.

During their sentencing in December 2012, the United States sought - and was awarded - restitution of $21,852 under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996. More than half of that - $12,966 - would repay money taken during the robberies and is uncontested.

The remainder of that restitution, however, included expenses that Merchants Bank paid to give staff time off and hire replacement staff for two days after the robbery, totaling nearly $8,000.

Merchants Bank also won $213 in restitution to cover its replacement staff's mileage expenses, as well $106 worth of wanted posters and $574 for a temporary security guard after the robbery.

Maynard and Ludwig argued that Merchants Bank's expenses are not subject to restitution because they are not among the MVRA's "enumerated harms."

Congress passed the MVRA to "make victims of crime whole, to fully compensate these victims for their losses and to restore these victims to their original state of well-being."

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit reversed Monday, finding no provision in the law that gives "the District Court discretion to order any other restitution."

Harms not listed in the law are "not compensable in restitution," Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for the court. "Because courts have no inherent authority to order restitution, Congress must provide the authority. Congress did so through the MVRA, but chose to include only the four categories of harms listed in [the law]. If Congress intended to include all harms directly and proximately caused by a defendant's offense, it could have done so with wording more simple and categorical."

In context, the "clause cannot serve as the government's springboard for restitution more broad than the text specifies," Jacobs added.

It was erroneous to have the couple pay restitution for the full amount of the wages paid to the regular staff during the two days after the robbery, the court found.

"We need to take into account that the bank would have paid the regular staff in any event," Jacobs wrote. "Thus, the bank would enjoy a windfall if it recovered compensation for the full amount of the regular staff and replacement staff wages."

It was also "gratuitous" to let Merchants Bank recover the costs of its wanted posters, the court found.

"The crime had been committed; there was no especial likelihood that this bank would again be the victim of these same robbers; the police had an ongoing investigation and did not seek the bank's cooperation in postering the neighborhood; and the bank had no interest to protect by an independent investigatory effort - and certainly had no duty to undertake it," Jacobs wrote.

Employing a temporary security guard was unnecessary as well, with Jacobs finding "no plausible showing that a second robbery of this branch by these defendants was such an imminent peril or a risk that the bank had a duty to take measures by posting a temporary guard."

Merchants can, however, recover expenses related to what it paid regular staff while police closed the bank as a crime scene after the robbery, according to the ruling.

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