July 24, 2019

Two arrested in bank heist > Manhunt leads officials to MDI

BANGOR — The two men suspected in last week’s armed robbery of Bangor Savings Bank were arrested late Friday night, ending an intense manhunt that involved federal, state, county and local law enforcement officials.

Michael K. Morgenstern, 20, of Bangor and David H. Lafortune, 19, of Tremont were arrested without incident in separate locations on Mount Desert Island before midnight.

“We’re really relieved. The more time that went by the more concerned we became,” said Lt. Don Winslow of the Bangor Police Department.

Morgenstern and Lafortune have been charged with the federal crime of bank robbery, according to a prepared statement Winslow read during a press conference at noon Saturday. Bank robbery with a firearm carries a maximum sentence of 25 years, Winslow said.

After their initial appearances in federal court in Bangor on Saturday morning, the two men were whisked away to Penobscot County Jail at a high rate of speed in a police van with blacked-out windows.

Morgenstern and Lafortune remained in police custody Sunday awaiting bond hearings.

“The bond hearings will probably be held Monday, and at that point, the magistrate will decide if should be let out,” Winslow said.

Police remain tight-lipped about numerous details surrounding the robbery, the investigation and the arrests.

Members of the media who gathered at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on Saturday morning weren’t allowed beyond the lobby, and affidavits pertaining to the robbery remained sealed over the weekend.

Winslow and Detective Sgt. Ron Gastia, the Bangor police officers who presided at Saturday’s press conference, strayed little from the prepared statement.

Among the details being kept under wraps for now are: how much money was taken in the robbery; whether any of the stolen cash has been recovered; whether police have located the gun used in the Thursday morning robbery; the exact locations of the arrests; and why the suspects fled to MDI.

Until the news was broadcast on TV Saturday morning, few residents in the Tremont area of MDI had been aware that Lafortune and Morgenstern had been arrested.

Piecing together the incident for themselves, local residents who declined to be identified said Morgenstern was arrested first, at a party in the village of Manset in Southwest Harbor, while Lafortune was taken into custody later at a private residence on Route 102 in the Tremont village of Seal Cove.

Times have been changing in communities like Tremont where many of the 1,300 year-round residents sense that neighbors no longer know each other as was the case decades ago.

Seal Cove resident Milton Higgins said Sunday he was not shocked to learn someone from town had been arrested in connection with the bank robbery. He said the town was recovering from the recent suicide of a convicted sex offender who had moved there and whose whereabouts was publicized.

“That was quite a shock,” said Higgins whose wife, Leola, served as Seal Cove postmaster for decades. “A lot of things happen around here that people don’t realize.”

Morgenstern and Lafortune are accused of holding up the Bangor Savings Bank on State Street at 10:40 a.m. Thursday and getting away with an undisclosed amount of money. The men who robbed the bank removed their ski masks while leaving the bank and were seen by witnesses.

Within hours of the robbery, police recovered the stolen 1995 Ford Windstar van used in the bank robbery in a secluded parking lot on Essex Street in Bangor.

Investigators were able to identify both men, but came up empty-handed after raids early Friday afternoon at 201 Center St. and at 73 Broadway, where Morgenstern resided.

At the Broadway apartment, police reportedly battered down the front door and used a concussion grenade inside apartment No. 4, where Morgenstern had been staying. Neighbors said the apartment was empty except for a black cat.

Winslow said both men were known to local police agencies.

“We do have involvement with them. Morgenstern has an extensive history with the Bangor Police Department. Lafortune has had some involvement with us, but not nearly as extensive,” Winslow said.

Though Winslow provided no specific details about either suspect’s criminal background, Bangor Daily News files included information on prior convictions for both men.

Lafortune was arrested last August in connection with an attempted robbery at a Holden convenience store and charged with robbery, terrorizing and criminal mischief.

According to police reports, Lafortune went into the Holden Irving Mainway store on Route 1A and demanded money from the clerk. For some reason, he turned away and headed for a nearby pay phone. The clerk hit the alarm button, locked the register and locked herself into a storage room.

Lafortune fled but was picked up by police minutes later. Lafortune reportedly threatened to kill a police officer and jail officials.

In 1996, Lafortune was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct and fined $350.

Morgenstern was arrested in Brewer just one month ago and charged with assault and unauthorized use of property. A Brewer police officer said the Police Department wasn’t releasing details about the Jan. 7 arrest before Morgenstern’s arraignment, scheduled for court in Bangor today.

Morgenstern’s criminal history dates back to at least 1995, when he was fined $100 for illegal possession of liquor. In 1996, he was fined for receiving stolen property as a result of a police investigation prompted by bad checks written by a housemate.

In 1995, Morgenstern was arrested for aggravated forgery at a motel in Bangor with Michael Chasse, who in 1997 was one of two men arrested for their roles in an alleged robbery attempt at the Brewer home of Robert Cohen, brother of Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

At the time of the incident, Morgenstern was the boyfriend of Robert Cohen’s daughter Heather. Morgenstern lived at the Cohen home on Sunset Strip in Brewer until late fall 1996, when he and Heather moved out after a falling-out with Heather’s father.

According to tenants of Morgenstern’s most recent home, a brick house at 73 Broadway, the current status of Morgenstern’s relationship with Heather Cohen, with whom he has a child, was unclear.

Morgenstern’s former Broadway neighbors, Rhiannon Demaio, 18, and her 19-year-old fiance, who did not want to be named, said Saturday that they were relieved by the arrests.

“I’m happy as hell. I’m glad it’s over,” Demaio’s fiance said.

The couple said they weren’t surprised to learn of Morgenstern’s role in the robbery. The suspect wasn’t bashful about showing new acquaintances his prison identification card, Demaio’s fiance said.

The couple said that Morgenstern, who recently had had his hair cropped into a buzz cut, had expressed to them a desire to obtain $20,000 and leave the state, though they said that they hadn’t foreseen a bank robbery.

The neighbor couple said that they last saw Morgenstern around 4 or 5 p.m. Wednesday, the night that the van apparently used in Thursday’s bank robbery disappeared.

The arrests were the result of an around-the-clock investigation that involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bangor Police Department, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and the Eastern Maine Violent Crimes Task Force, which consists of representatives from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department and the state police.

“I will tell you that we do have physical evidence, but I’m not going to discuss what evidence we do have,” Winslow said during the press conference.

He did not rule out the possibility that others might be involved in the bank robbery.

“At this point, investigators will continue to follow up leads in order to piece together the events of this crime and to determine if there is involvement by any other individuals,” he said.

Winslow said that the arrests followed reliable information from several sources.

“The media reports of this incident generated numerous leads and was instrumental in the apprehension of these individuals,” he said. “The succcess of this investigation is also attributed to the high level of cooperation among enforcement agencies, the Bangor Savings Bank and the public willing to come forward with information.”

Reporters Letitia Baldwin and Doug Kesseli contributed to this report.

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