Grosse Pointe City native accused of two local bank robberies

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 20, 2017

GROSSE POINTE CITY/GROSSE POINTE FARMS — How does a college graduate with a good job in commercial real estate and memberships in several professional associations and the Detroit Athletic Club allegedly start robbing banks — one just blocks from his home?

The answer, said his attorney, David Griem, is gambling addiction. Nicholas Cinqueranelli, 27, of Grosse Pointe City — a 2008 graduate of Grosse Pointe South High School — now stands accused of entering banks last week in Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe City and demanding cash while claiming to be armed, police said.

“The only addiction he has is a gambling addiction,” Griem said of his client, who played on the same state championship-winning high school hockey team as Griem’s son. “He’s a sports bettor, and he owed two different individuals a total of $30,000, and the one individual — and we are cooperating with police on this — had not only threatened Nick Cinqueranelli’s life, but also his family’s life. It doesn’t excuse the crime, but it does put it in some perspective.”

Cinqueranelli was arraigned on charges of bank robbery and armed robbery in the Farms and City. Grosse Pointe City Detective John Alcorn said Cinqueranelli was arraigned in front of Farms Municipal Court Judge Matthew Rumora on June 16, and in front of City Municipal Court Judge Russell Ethridge on June 17. Both judges gave him a bond of $10,000 or 10 percent and placed him on a GPS tether under house arrest after he posted $1,000 bond, with Ethridge also ordering Cinqueranelli to surrender his passport and his guns, which included a couple of hunting rifles and a handgun, Alcorn said.

Alcorn said he had requested a $500,000 bond because of the seriousness of the crime.

According to a City police report, Cinqueranelli allegedly robbed the JPMorgan Chase Bank at 17449 E. Jefferson Ave. at 5:34 p.m. June 14. Officers were dispatched to the area after receiving a 911 call about the incident, but although they arrived to the scene within 15 seconds of the call, they were unable to locate the vehicle that Cinqueranelli allegedly had been driving — a gold Jeep Liberty that someone had seen heading westbound on Jefferson.

After saying to the teller, “I need you to help me out,” Cinqueranelli allegedly presented the teller with a note that read: “I need this for my kids. I don’t want to do this. I have a gun. Put $100s and $50s in an envelope.”

The teller gave the robber an envelope containing about $2,050, and the robber reportedly said “thank you” before he left, alone, in the Jeep. The teller told police that the robber had been inside the branch three times during the day, entering around 2:40 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. He is said to have asked bank employees during the latter visit what time they closed. He then returned for the third time, which is when he committed the robbery.

According to a Farms police report, Cinqueranelli was inside the Fifth Third Bank at 66 Kercheval Ave. on the Hill around 12:59 p.m. June 15. A teller told police the suspect stood at a desk in the vestibule momentarily and then walked up to the teller’s window, where he held up an envelope and said, “I just want to do this fast.”

She said he removed a note from the envelope and held it up for her; the note read, “I have a gun; I don’t want to hurt anyone.” When she reached for her keys on the counter, she said, Cinqueranelli allegedly became agitated and said, “Whoa, no, no.” The teller then explained that her drawer was locked and she needed the keys to open it. At that point, she said, the suspect said, “Never mind.” He put the note back in the envelope and left through the Kercheval exit, departing without receiving any money.

Another Fifth Third employee, who had been in her office at the time and had observed the suspicious interaction, took note that Cinqueranelli allegedly left the scene in a black four-door vehicle that was headed east on Kercheval toward Moross Road. She also wrote down the license plate number, which police traced back to the suspect’s home.

Alcorn was waiting for the suspect at the home when he got a call about Cinqueranelli allegedly driving around in the City. The detective said he drove to the area where the suspect was spotted and saw Cinqueranelli’s vehicle approaching his. He said he looked at Cinqueranelli, and Cinqueranelli made eye contact with him before Cinqueranelli accelerated, made a fast turn onto his street and then made another fast turn into his driveway, running into the house. As he raced inside, Alcorn said, Cinqueranelli was taking off his shirt, possibly in an effort to change his clothes before police arrived.

Alcorn was the first officer on the scene and was alone at the time — backup was close behind — and so he ran into the house after the suspect, ordering him to stop at gunpoint.

“I felt I was close enough that I had to do it,” said Alcorn, noting that he didn’t want the suspect to possibly barricade himself in the home. Alcorn was able to arrest the suspect, Alcorn he said apologized for the robberies.

“He kept saying he was sorry, he had to do it, people were going to kill him if he didn’t pay them,” Alcorn said.

Alcorn said police got search warrants for the home where Cinqueranelli sometimes stayed with his parents, as well as an apartment that he had.

“We uncovered other evidence of possible other criminal activity,” Alcorn said, although he wasn’t free to elaborate because the investigation is ongoing.

In both incidents, Cinqueranelli allegedly used only a baseball hat and sunglasses to conceal his identity. Police said he has confessed to both crimes. Besides Alcorn, the suspect was also interviewed by two Farms detectives: Bryan Ford and Tom Shimko.

Alcorn said police are grateful that nobody got hurt during the robberies or the arrest.

“One of the great things about working in the Grosse Pointes is, when we have a major case like this (one) is, I had backup from Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Park and maybe another department,” Alcorn said. “There were officers everywhere. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad to be working here.”

Of the charges Cinqueranelli is facing, Alcorn said armed robbery and bank robbery both carry possible life sentences. Griem said he doesn’t want to downplay the severity of the crime; he said that while Cinqueranelli wasn’t actually carrying a gun at the time of the robberies, under Michigan law, his assertion to the bank tellers that he was armed is enough to be charged with armed robbery. Griem said his client is “cooperating with police and gave a complete confession,” but while the possibility of a plea deal exists, Cinqueranelli is definitely facing a prison sentence, not probation.

“It is sad,” Griem said. “The parents are devastated. It’s just a terrible, terrible situation. … You’ve heard of the American dream — this was an American tragedy.”

The high school student Griem remembers was “a nice, quiet, soft-spoken kid who had a self-effacing personality. This is about as far out of character as any case I’ve ever represented.”

The attorney said Cinqueranelli and his family “have lived in the Pointes forever.” Griem said Cinqueranelli’s parents had no idea their son had a gambling problem until his arrest.

The day before the first robbery, Griem said Cinqueranelli was frantically calling people he knew to try to borrow money to pay off the debt — an assertion Griem said he independently verified by contacting one of those people himself. He said his client “broke down” talking to this person, who was unable to loan him the money.

Cinqueranelli is now under house arrest, but Griem said he has started receiving treatment for his gambling addiction — something the attorney said his client “unfortunately” hadn’t done before. And the threat remains a constant worry.

“Nick believed, and still believes, that the lives of him and his family are in jeopardy,” Griem said.

It’s a startling turn of events for someone who had never been in trouble with the law.

“I don’t know that he’s even got a speeding ticket on his record,” Griem said.

The veteran attorney said he hopes that a judge will take Cinqueranelli’s circumstances into account when determining how much time he should spend behind bars. For someone Griem said is a “good kid” from “a good family,” this is an especially difficult case.

At press time, Alcorn said Cinqueranelli was slated to appear in Farms Municipal Court at noon July 12 and in City Municipal Court at 9:30 a.m. July 13 for his preliminary examination.