‘Freedom Fighter Bandit’ indicted by federal grand jury in Tennessee

Updated Feb 08, 2018
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Investigators nicknamed the female bank robber the “Freedom Fighter Bandit” because she told tellers she needs the money for a social cause.

Federal prosecutors wasted no time bringing charges against the alleged serial bank robber dubbed the “Freedom Fighter Bandit.”

Nilsa Marie Urena, 25, was indicted Wednesday, five days after her arrest following her latest heist in Crossville, Tenn., according to the U.S. District Court in middle Tennessee. The FBI believes Urena, of Philadelphia, is responsible for multiple bank robberies across metro Atlanta since Oct. 30, although federal charges for those crimes have not been filed. 

She appeared in a Nashville courtroom Thursday, but was not granted bond. She will be held in Tennessee until a trial can be scheduled.

Following her arrest on Saturday afternoon, Urena admitted her involvement in the robberies, a criminal complaint states.

“When interviewed, Urena made several admissions concerning her involvement in both the robbery of the bank in Crossville, Tennessee and the bank robberies in Georgia,” the complaint, filed in federal court, reads. “Her statements were consistent with the robberies in both Crossville, Tennessee and Georgia.”

So far, federal charges have been filed against her only in Tennessee. But Urena has an outstanding warrant in Douglas County, where she was indicted in November on charges of armed robbery, terroristic threats, and hoax devices, the District Attorney’s Office said.

If convicted, Urena faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Nilsa Marie Urena, 25, was arrested Saturday in Tennessee after allegedly robbing another bank, according to police. Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Freedom Fighter Bandit earned her nickname because she told bank tellers she needed the cash for various social causes, the FBI has said. She also threatened to blow up the banks.

Investigators identified Urena as the robber before she was captured. After robbing Georgia’s Own Credit Union in Grayson on Nov. 3, investigators believe she drove to a Bank of the Ozarks branch in Douglasville. Later that night, two teenagers believed involved with the Douglasville robbery were arrested, according to police, and the pair identified Urena as the robber.

The bandit has been credited with eight bank robberies since Oct. 30, according to investigators. The same woman is believed responsible for robberies ranging from Loganville to Lithonia and Comer, about 20 miles northeast of Athens.

Around 11:20 a.m. Saturday, Urena allegedly entered the Upper Cumberland Federal Credit Union in Crossville, located about 90 minutes from Nashville, according to investigators. Inside, the suspect handed the teller a note that read “Bomb; 20 minutes; no cops; Allah,” police said.

The robbery suspect was gone when officers arrived. But surveillance cameras from local businesses helped investigators locate a tag number on the alleged getaway vehicle, court documents show. Urena allegedly hired a driver to pick her up near the bank and take her to the Nashville Greyhound station, according to police.

The driver, whose name was not released, was not aware that his client was a robbery suspect and told police the woman’s information could be found on his home computer, investigators said. Police were able to determine Urena requested the driver take her to Nashville.

“The driver of the white vehicle continued to send text message updates to the officers as he drove towards Nashville with the robbery suspect in the backseat,” the criminal complaint against Urena states. “The text messages advised officers of the estimated time of arrival and described the drop-off point.”

Urena was arrested across the street from the Greyhound station, according to police.