Tattoos may be 2nd ticket to freedom / Bank robber seen on tape apparently had bare forearmsMonday, March 1, 1999
BY FRANK GREEN
WARSAW -- A lightning bolt flashes through a cloud on his right forearm. A palm tree on an island graces his left. The blue-ink tattoos are at least 17 years old, now blurred with age, and are not works of art.
But to Nicholas Leo Delauri, a long-time bad-check writer, they're beautiful. They might be his get-out-of-jail card for the bank robbery charge he faces in U.S. District Court in Richmond.
It could be the second time Delauri has dodged that bullet. Bank robbery charges against him in Syracuse, N.Y., were dropped because a third robbery -- in what Syracuse authorities think is a series by the same man -- was committed while Delauri was in jail.
Delauri still is in jail, this time in Virginia. He now is accused of robbing the F&M Bank branch at 9960 Midlothian Turnpike on Oct. 30, 1997. A surveillance camera captured a T-shirt-clad robber in action.
The camera caught the robber's apparently bare forearms -- bare and showing no tattoos like his, Delauri said.
The FBI said last week that, because there has been an indictment in the case, they could not turn over any photographs of the robbery.
However, the FBI sent photos showing the robber's arms to the Syracuse Herald American newspaper. In a Jan. 17 article, reporter John O'Brien wrote: "In the bank photo, the robber's right forearm is clearly visible. A tattoo is not."
A law-enforcement source in Richmond said it is possible a tattoo might get washed out in a surveillance camera photo, or that a robber could hide a tattoo with makeup.
Authorities say Delauri is a con man who has been in trouble in several areas along the East Coast. Even if there is some doubt about the robbery photo, they said, the prosecution case will present sufficient other evidence to convict him of the Richmond bank robbery.
Nevertheless, "the photos present the stunning possibility that Delauri was misidentified not once, but twice as a bank robber," O'Brien wrote in the front-page article.
The Syracuse newspaper sent a copy of the robbery photo to The Times-Dispatch. The photo appears to show a clean forearm where Delauri's lightning-bolt tattoo is located.
Delauri, who has a history of writing bad checks, is facing larceny, fraud and counterfeit securities charges in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Virginia.
Interviewed at the Northern Neck Regional Jail Wednesday, he concedes he is not an angel.
His lawyer in Syracuse, Edward Menkin, said, "He's had a checkered past but he's definitely innocent of what he [was] charged with up here."
Menkin also has seen the Richmond bank robbery photos. "He doesn't exactly have glue-on tattoos," Menkin said.
During the interview, Delauri defended himself.
"I am innocent of the bank robberies. Anything beyond that I can deal with, but I didn't rob a bank," he said. "The only [convictions] I've ever had is for checks . . . larceny charges."
He said he isn't sure how many times he has been convicted of writing bad checks.
"I honestly don't know," he said. "Over the years, probably a dozen of them.
"Yes, I have a record for larceny charges, but that has nothing to do with bank robbery. Completely nonviolent."
A Connecticut native, Delauri, 36, is a chubby, mustachioed, dark-haired man who speaks rapidly with a strong Northeast accent. He is the former owner of a failed business in Richmond called Atlantic Lighting Services, and he's been in and out of trouble with the law since he was 17 or 18.
"I'll take a lineup, a polygraph, anything these people want," he said. "I don't know why they're doing this. . . . I feel like they're doing the same thing they did to me in Syracuse."
The Syracuse charge was thrown out in a case that resulted in a front-page article in the Syracuse Herald American on Jan. 8: "Someone robbed a Marine Midland Bank on North Salina Street Wednesday, probably the same man who hit it twice before in the past four months.
"No one had a better alibi for the third job than Nicky Delauri. He was sitting in jail accused of committing the second robbery.
"Federal authorities admitted their mistake within hours, moving Thursday morning to dismiss the bank robbery charges against Delauri because he could not have been in two places at the same time."
But Delauri wasn't turned free -- he still was wanted in Richmond and several other places.
The F&M Bank branch was robbed in October 1997. The FBI announced in October 1998 that a warrant had been issued against Delauri for the robbery. At the time the FBI credited robbery photos that ran in the local media for generating tips that led to Delauri's arrest a year after the robbery.
Delauri said that a year after the robbery a Richmond television station showed the photograph during a segment featuring unsolved crimes.
A woman Delauri had dated for a month, when he and his wife had been separated, was the person who tipped authorities, he said. He claims she had harassed him and his wife.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Altimari, who is handling the case, said he could not comment. In addition to the bank robbery charge, Altimari is prosecuting Delauri for 14 counts of passing counterfeit bank checks.
© 1999, Richmond Newspapers Inc.