OSWEGO — The man accused of robbing the downtown Chase Bank Wednesday has a long criminal history and even earned a colorful nickname from a New York City newspaper for his arresting attire.
Cornell R. Neilly, 29, of Watertown, is in custody at the Oswego County Jail on charges of third-degree robbery and third-degree grand larceny, both Class D felonies, Oswego Police Department (OPD) Chief Phil Cady announced Thursday morning.
New York State Police troopers apprehended Neilly — dubbed the “Burberry bandit” by the New York Post due to his penchant for wearing fashionable clothing during his heists — on I-81 Wednesday afternoon after he allegedly demanded cash from a teller at the West First Street Chase Bank location then fled the city.
Neilly is being held with no bail, police said Friday.
Cady said the entire situation, which lasted less than an hour from hold-up to pick up, was a “great example of the interagency cooperation we have in Oswego County.”
In January, the Post reported Neilly has been busted on more than a dozen charges of allegedly knocking over Chase and Citibank branches in Manhattan during a several-months-long spree in 2019. The Post also reported in the same January article that Neilly was “released… under the controversial new bail reform measures.” New York this year has enacted a number of reforms to the way defendants are treated prior to conviction, with opponents saying the justice system now lets criminals back on the streets too easily.
Mayor Billy Barlow took the opportunity to decry the legislation, passed last year and enforced starting Jan. 1, 2020.
“Unfortunately, thanks to New York State’s so-called ‘bail reform laws,’ the constant repeat offender responsible for multiple robberies known as the ‘Burberry bandit’ was allowed to walk the streets free and venture to Oswego to commit another robbery”.
According to OPD, the alleged incident began at approximately 1:02 p.m. March 25, when Neilly and two other individuals in a 2003 red Chevrolet Malibu pulled up to the Chase Bank at 204 W. 1st St., Oswego. Police said the driver of the car was hired by Neilly for a ride to Oswego from Watertown. The third individual was a friend of the driver. Neither the driver or the driver’s friend knew anything of what was about to unfold, police said. As neither have been charged and are not considered suspects (“unwittingly involved,” police said) their names are being withheld.
Neilly exited the Chevy Malibu, police said, and entered the Chase Bank. He then allegedly passed a note to a teller “demanding money,” police said. With the proceeds allegedly in hand, he then exited the bank and re-entered the car.
Once Oswego city police were notified of the alleged robbery, the hunt was on.
“The Oswego Police Department’s ability to review video footage from the new downtown camera systems; coupled with information sharing throughout Oswego County law enforcement was paramount,” Cady said.
With Oswego County Sheriff’s deputies and state police looking for the vehicle, it didn’t take long before troopers at exit 38 of I-81 stopped Neilly and his innocent traveling companions. All three were detained and transported to OPD headquarters on West Second Street pending the investigation. Neilly and the two other vehicle occupants "cooperated" with the investigation.
Officials said police recovered the proceeds of the alleged robbery, but did not specify the dollar amount. During the alleged robbery and escape, the infamously stylish Neilly was wearing an olive-colored green jacket, a red-colored hooded sweatshirt, green-colored jeans with an orange stripe down the side of the leg and a black-colored baseball style ball cap with a gold dollar sign on it.
A New York Post report from July 29 said Neilly robbed nine Chase Banks and one Citibank between June 22 and July 10 using handwritten notes which allegedly said “This is a robbery. Give me 50s and 100s. Please give note back.”
He left empty-handed in three locations, the report continued, but took off with more than $15,000 during the spree.
During one robbery on July 5, he received just $150, to which he responded, “That’s it?” according to the complaint.
Neilly was sentenced to five-to-10 years in prison for a string of Manhattan bank robberies in 2012, according to a 2014 report from the Post. He took about $8,500 from 13 bank robberies in a two-month span, and according to the New York Post, told police he did it to buy a $400 pair of sneakers and other additions to his wardrobe.
Before he got into bank robbing, Neilly served time for selling drugs. According to public documents, both state and New York City police were also after Neilly on multiple outstanding warrants for larceny and robbery.