Appellate Court Upholds Former Ranger American Security Guard’s Conviction For ATM Burglary Of $70K
PHILADELPHIA — A federal appellate court has affirmed former Ranger American Guard Clement Bougouneau’s conviction, and said there is sufficient evidence to prove he stole $70,000 from an ATM on St. John two days before Hurricane Irma devastated the island.
Bougouneau, 53, is currently incarcerated at the Residential Reentry Management field office in Miami, and is scheduled to be released on Sunday, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
He was charged in March 2019 with bank burglary and bank larceny and convicted of both charges in July 2019 after a two-day jury trial before former U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez. While Bougouneau had faced up to 20 years in prison, Gomez sentenced him on November 21, 2019, to serve 21 months.
Bougouneau appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an opinion December 24.
According to trial testimony, Bougouneau used his “access and inside knowledge” as a 12-year Ranger American employee to steal cash from the ATM. Ranger American is a security company that transports money, with operations in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“Clement Bougouneau ‘serviced’ an automated teller machine (ATM) by stealing $70,000 from it. He argues on appeal that the jury’s guilty verdict was based on insufficient evidence and that the District Court improperly admitted evidence that prejudiced him,” the appellate judges wrote. “But because the jury’s guilty verdict was supported by ample evidence, his sufficiency challenge fails.”
The opinion recounted the major facts of the case, including that Ranger American has specific procedures that must be followed when ATMs are serviced, including the presence of two uniformed employees in an armored vehicle.
“The employees open the ATM and exchange full canisters containing cash deposited by customers with empty canisters. Then, the two employees deliver the full canisters to a cash depot on St. Thomas,” according to the opinion. A separate ATM component, which employees are not allowed to access, contains “sealed cash cassettes that contain stacks of $20 bills for ATM withdrawals,” and employees must file a report if a cassette is accidentally unsealed.
“Despite these procedures, on Labor Day 2017 — a day Banco Popular was closed — Bougouneau, alone and in civilian clothes, drove his SUV to Banco Popular. Video surveillance shows Bougouneau opening an ATM, placing the money from the full deposit canisters into an envelope, and putting the empty canisters back into the machine,” according to the opinion.
“Then, one-by-one, Bougouneau took three of the four sealed cash cassettes behind a door in the ATM room which was out of the camera’s range. When Bougouneau reappeared from behind the door, the cassettes’ seals were missing. He placed the unsealed cassettes back in the ATM.” Ranger American did not authorize Bougouneau to unseal the cassettes and he did not file a report after doing so, and “most importantly,” the judges said no money was ever delivered to St. Thomas.
“The following day, the ATM ran out of cash. It should have contained $70,000 available for customers to withdraw.
“That evening, the ATM was boarded up in anticipation of Hurricane Irma’s impending landfall. It remained unused for several months during hurricane recovery,” according to the opinion.
“In November, Bougouneau, along with Ranger American’s ATM Operating Manager, Lillian De Jesus, went to inspect the ATM. When they opened it, they observed three empty cassettes with missing security seals.”
At trial, prosecutors showed pages of ATM receipts showing St. Johnians trying and failing to withdraw cash on Sept. 5, 2017 — the day before Irma hit, and the day after Bougouneau had opened sealed canisters inside the machine and took the cash that his supervisors had specifically said should stay in the ATM “for the people of St. John.”
Bougouneau took the stand and testified in his own defense, and “on direct examination, he admitted that he removed the seals from the cassettes but denied stealing any money,” according to opinion.
“Bougouneau contends he cannot be guilty of bank burglary — which requires entering any part of a bank with intent to steal — because he entered the bank with intent to service the ATM. But given the evidence, including that Bougouneau appeared alone at the ATM and disregarded many of Ranger American’s servicing procedures on a day that Banco Popular did not request his services, a rational jury could find that Bougouneau entered the bank with intent to steal,” the appellate judges found.
“Bougouneau also argues he cannot be guilty of bank larceny because the offense requires taking money in excess of $1,000 from a bank. He says the Government can’t prove he took more than $1,000. Again, a rational jury could find that, since the ATM should have contained $70,000 but was found to be empty, Bougouneau helped himself to an amount in excess of $1,000,” according to the opinion.
Bougouneau has maintained his innocence, and told Gomez at his sentencing that “I didn’t do what they said I did.” But Prosecutor Meredith Edwards told the judge that “the defendant’s greed prevented a number of people from getting that money” and his actions “did cause a hardship on a number of people.”
Prior to his arrest, Bougouneau had been hailed as a hero when he was shot in December 2013 while pursuing a man who had shot his fellow Ranger American guard and ran off with a bag containing $30,000 cash that they were transporting in Lockhart Gardens.
“It is unfortunate that the arc of time brings you to this position,” Gomez said at Bougouneau’s sentencing.
Meanwhile, the reaction to Bougouneau’s appeal failure was largely sympathetic.
“Damn the temptation to steal must have overruled his common sense,” Lee Questel said on St. Thomas. “So he should have listened to his heart and said: ‘Damn, I can’t get away with this,’ But man, his eyes grew too big and he let greed take over his mind and heart, Let this be a lesson to all who are reading this, And no matter what hardships he was have having if he was, I am sure his company or a friend would have helped him. Never be ashamed to ask for help, Now his life is ruined with a major felony charge, And that’s gonna be a millstone around his neck for life because it’s going to almost impossible to get a job with that kind of felony, a drug dealer can get work but a thief nobody will want to hire him. I say I hope he learned his lesson and turn to God for with God all things are possible.”
—Virgin Islands Daily News