By Julie Manganis
---- — PEABODY — A Topsfield woman, with her two young daughters tucked in car seats behind her, was simply doing an errand, withdrawing $40 from the drive-up ATM outside the Bank of America near the Northshore Mall last Monday morning.
At the same time, Gerald Russo, 33, of Gloucester, a man with a criminal record that includes heroin possession, was on a desperate hunt for $300 in cash.
His original plan was to pass an old check from the Cheesecake Factory, one that had already been cashed, a police report revealed. The bank didn’t fall for the alleged scheme, however, and he left empty-handed.
Then, police allege, he saw an opportunity.
He opened the passenger door of the Topsfield woman’s car, just as she had finished withdrawing cash, and hopped inside, she told police. He told the woman he needed $300, and the woman, fearing for her children — ages 20 months and 3 years — and herself, withdrew another $200 and gave it to him, she said.
Russo fled, the woman screamed for help, and the driver behind her, a 67-year-old woman, dialed 911.
Now Russo is being held without bail, pending a dangerousness hearing on Tuesday in Peabody District Court, where he’s facing charges of unarmed robbery and breaking and entering to a vehicle with intent to commit a felony. Details of the robbery emerged from court papers examined on Friday.
Russo, who just last year was sentenced to serve eight months of a two-year jail term for threatening a Gloucester cab driver and possessing heroin, has a lengthy criminal record dating back a decade, according to court papers and newspaper reports. Part of his sentence in the Gloucester taxi case required him to take part in a drug treatment program run by the Salvation Army.
A year earlier, in 2011, Russo was convicted of forgery charges stemming from the theft of checks from his mother, which he subsequently cashed.
Russo was identified as a suspect in the Peabody ATM robbery after bank managers obtained surveillance video from outside the bank and recognized Russo as the man who had just been inside moments earlier, according to the police report.
Russo had used his own Massachusetts identification card to try to cash the check, which was made out in his own name. He also appeared in surveillance video from inside the bank.
Police got a warrant, and Russo, who was still on probation, turned himself in later last week.
Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.