Authorities thought they had stopped a drunk driver. The man they arrested turned out to be a convicted bank robber.
Police in Milwaukie, Oregon, spotted an oddly moving blue Nissan Sentra on Tuesday, Oct. 15. When the driver stopped at a stoplight, a detective ran the car's plate number. The blue car then rolled forward and hit another car, prompting drivers of both cars to step out. So did Detective Tony Cereghino.
The driver of the Sentra was identified as 68-year-old Ralph Griffith of Vancouver, Washington. He had been convicted of bank robbery in the 1980s and early 2000s and had written books glorifying heists - and the time he says he served in prison with notorious white-collar criminal Bernie Madoff.
When Cereghino met Griffith, he didn't know all of that, but something about the near-septuagenarian's face looked familiar, he said in a court affidavit. Then it hit him: He recognized that Griffith resembled a suspect in two July robberies.
In August, officers had collected surveillance video from a resident's home because the footage had the potential to help law enforcement identify a suspect in a July 26 robbery of a Wells Fargo Bank.
Two GPS trackers were found the day of the robbery, one attached to a ripped $20 bill found in bushes and the other found in the middle of a street. Officers were able to identify the getaway car by matching the surveillance footage to the GPS trackers, according to the criminal complaint filed in Clackamas County on Wednesday.
Griffith denied his involvement in the robberies to detectives, though his responses to questions indicated otherwise, according to the affidavit.
A Tuesday search of his car found a blue bag on the front passenger seat, a bag with multiple medical masks, various wigs and a pair of black sunglasses. The car's glove box also had a medical mask and white medical tape that looked similar to a disguise used by the July 26 bank robbery suspect.
The robber wore sunglasses, tape on his face, a black wig and a white surgical mask under his chin, according to the affidavit. With a clear-plastic-glove-covered finger on the trigger of a black handgun, he placed his hand on a teller's counter and said, "Give me the money and no one will get hurt," according to court records.
Even though the teller feared for his life, he activated the alarm as he handed over the GPS-tracked cash to the robber, who placed the bills in a black reusable grocery bag over his shoulder, according to court records.
In a low voice, the man said, "You, too, sweetie," referring to the cash from a female bank teller's drawer. The robber noticed the tracker on the money but still placed it in his bag. He asked a few security questions before he casually walked out of the bank, according to the affidavit.
Griffith had been convicted of robbing banks in the past. In 1986, he was found guilty of robbery in the Middle District of Tennessee, where he was sentenced to concurrent 20- and 25-year prison sentences, according to a 2005 denial of Griffith's motion to vacate his sentence.
In 2004, he was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release for three counts of bank robbery, according to court records.
Griffith gave the impression that he had a firearm in all three robberies in his 2004 case, according to the recently filed affidavit. When he was stopped in the Nissan on Tuesday, he was carrying a toy gun, authorities said.
While incarcerated, Griffith claimed to have gained proficiency in Mandarin, Japanese, German and Spanish, according to a 2012 letter he wrote to a judge from a North Carolina prison. He also became a prolific author.
"I have written six novels and think when I get out in a few more years I will be able to support myself honestly," he said in the letter, addressing his reluctance to register as a sex offender, something that stemmed from a 1974 conviction in San Francisco city and county. "I do not need this extra hassle in my life. I have enough problems as it is being 65 when I get out."
Griffith was released from prison Aug. 11, 2017. He relocated to live with a friend in Colorado before moving to California on Oct. 12, 2018, according to court records.
A U.S. probation specialist said Griffith's multiple health conditions didn't make it feasible for him to live on the streets. A judge signed off on a request to modify the terms of Griffith's supervision, which stated that he would reside at a residential reentry center for up to 90 days, according to court records.
In January, Griffith was given permission to stay with his wife, Linda Winward, at a home she shared with her mother in Milwaukie. The pair moved to an apartment in Vancouver on Aug. 1, according to the recently filed affidavit. It is unclear whether the two are legally married.
Public records show that the XAK Media Group on his LinkedIn profile is a real company.
Griffith also named himself an associate of the disgraced and imprisoned Madoff on his LinkedIn page. The men were incarcerated together for a while, Griffith claims. He wrote and independently published a book in 2017 about his time being imprisoned with Madoff. It was titled "Monkey House: Ralph Griffith and Bernie Madoff."
In one of the only two reviews of the book on Amazon, Winward, under Griffith's screen name, wrote: "Although a memoir it was as wild as any work of fiction that I have read."
In May 2018, he wrote and self-published a novel about a fame-seeking transgender woman turned bank robber. Only Tyler Perry could play one of the main characters of his book, Griffith said in a LinkedIn post.
According to the criminal complaint, Winward wept during an FBI agent's visit to her home Tuesday. She said she sometimes allowed Griffith to borrow her car, which he would use for short periods, according to the complaint.
The last day she saw Griffith free, he told Winward, "Sometimes people who are incarcerated for a long time just can't get away from that life," or something to that effect, according to court documents.
Griffith was being held in the Multnomah County Detention Center on one count of bank robbery and is categorized as a risk to others and a flight risk. He was set to be back in court Oct. 24.
This article was written by Lateshia Beachum, a reporter for The Washington Post.