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News Frankling man arrested for Buncombe County bank robbery on tip

Concerned citizen identifies perpetrator

After months of investigation, authorities from Buncombe County have apprehended a Franklin man suspected of robbing a bank in Asheville.

Brian Keith Leonhart, 32, was arrested on Dec. 29 at his residence on Cook Street in Franklin, by the Macon County Sheriff’s Office. Leonhart was arrested for robbery with a dangerous weapon, after detectives with the Asheville Police Department obtained a warrant for his arrest.

On Sept. 28 of last year, at approximately 3:35 p.m., the APD responded to a report of an armed robbery in progress at First Citizens Bank, located on 1205 Tunnel Road in East Asheville.

According to APD detective Steve Coon, the suspect was a “heavyset” Caucasian male, wearing a dark colored long sleeve shirt, blue jeans, dark sunglasses, and a camouflaged baseball cap. The preliminary investigation revealed that the suspect had a dark mustache and facial hair, and fled from the bank in a white PT Cruiser or Chevy HHR.

“He wasn’t in the parking lot very long,” said Coon on Wednesday. “We believe the suspect waited until there was nobody else around, because he entered the bank when there were no customers.” Coon added that witnesses reported the suspect was by himself.

After the incident, authorities alerted the media who circulated a photo of the bandit in action at the bank.

Leonhart’s arrest stems from a call Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland received from a concerned citizen last fall, who saw one of the images.

“She (the concerned citizen) basically called me after seeing some photos of [the suspect] on the news back when it happened. She said that the man in the pictures looked a lot like someone she knew,” said Holland on Tuesday. “Then I contacted the Asheville Police Department with the information and they began their investigation here.” That man, he said, fit the description of Leonhart, whom MCSO officers assisted in investigating.

At the time, Holland explained, Leonhart was living on Laurel Lake Road, located off the Highlands Road. Over the course of the investigation the suspect had moved to Lot 16 at the Cook Street trailer park. The quiet, mostly Hispanic neighborhood located off of Depot Street, was unaware of its new neighbor.

“There hasn’t been any trouble,” said park landlord Jackie Cook. “He was quiet and there were no problems. They were normal people is all I could tell. They weren’t loud or the party kind… I know they didn’t have a lot of money and I know they were struggling like everyone else to try and pay their bills.”

Cook said that Leonhart and his girlfriend had moved into the residence on Nov. 10. Authorities have indicated that he was unemployed at the time of his arrest.

Authorities say once enough evidence was mounted against Leonhart, they executed the arrest. “We had interviewed him originally and some of the things he was telling us weren’t adding up. He denied doing it,” said Coon. “Based on the pictures, statements, the vehicle he drives… Everything added up. We were waiting on one piece of evidence and when it came through we went ahead with the arrest.” Details on the evidence that led to Leonhart’s arrest have not been disclosed.

Leonhart was transported back to Buncombe County by noon of Dec. 29 after being held briefly by MCSO. He is currently being held in Buncombe County Detention Center on a $30,000 secured bond. Other suspects have been eliminated during the investigation, according to Coon.

The investigation is ongoing, Coon added. Leonhart is scheduled to appear in Buncombe County District Court on Jan. 20 at 9:30 a.m.





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