Home / Featured / Follow-up: Kidnapping, extortion, robbery plotters indicted

Follow-up: Kidnapping, extortion, robbery plotters indicted

As we reported Wednesday, two men have been indicted by a federal grand jury for plotting to kidnap bank executives and their families and forcing those executives to try and steal money from their respective institutions. However, 43-year-old Michael Benanti of Pennsylvania and 45-year-old Brian Witham of Maine were successful in executing their plans only once in three tries.

The first incident occurred April 28th, when Y-12 Federal Credit Union President Mark Zeigler and his family were kidnapped from their West Knox County home at gunpoint. Zeigler’s wife and son were held hostage while the duo allegedly forced Zeigler to try and remove money from the main Y-12 FCU Branch on Lafayette Drive in Oak Ridge. For undisclosed reasons, the plan did not work but Zeigler’s family was dropped off safely in the parking lot of Gettysvue Country Club in Knoxville.

The pair is accused of kidnapping SmartBank executive Tanner Harris and his wife and child on July 7th and forcing Harris to remove money from the bank. In this case, the duo was successful, making off with an undisclosed amount of cash and releasing harris and his family unharmed.

The third incident occurred at a credit union in Elizabethton on October 21st and involved a credit union executive and her son, but again no money was stolen and the mother and child were released unharmed.

Benanti and Witham were apprehended in North Carolina the day before Thanksgiving following a vehicle chase and soon linked to the extortion attempts.

Each man is named in a 15-count indictment filed in federal court in Knoxville on Tuesday and if convicted, the FBI says each could face up to 142 years in prison.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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