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Originally published November 30, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 30, 2006 at 12:34 AM

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Tacoma bank robbed to start a crime family?

Luke Sommer, the U.S. Army Ranger accused of masterminding the takeover robbery of a Tacoma bank in August, planned to use proceeds from...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Luke Sommer, the U.S. Army Ranger accused of masterminding the takeover robbery of a Tacoma bank in August, planned to use proceeds from the heist to launch a "crime family" in Canada, federal authorities allege.

Sommer's goal was to control drug-running and extortion in the Kelowna area of British Columbia, one of his alleged accomplices told the FBI.

Sommer originally planned to rob Chip's Casino in Lakewood, Pierce County, according to charging papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, but opted for the bank after fellow defendant Scott Byrne, 32, convinced him that the casino would be too risky.

Byrne, a U.S. citizen, was arrested Wednesday morning at Fort Lewis and charged with aiding and abetting the Aug. 7 robbery of the Bank of America branch on South Tacoma Way. He was the fifth Ranger arrested in connection with the bank robbery.

According to court papers, Byrne told investigators he served as a "consultant" on the bank robbery and helped Sommer plan many of the details, but did not participate.

Four masked gunmen toting AK-47s and semi-automatic handguns entered the bank and stole more than $54,000 in a robbery the FBI said was carried out with "military-style precision and planning." A fifth man drove the robbers to and from the bank.

Some of the allegations in the charging documents filed Wednesday also were made by the government in court papers filed last week.

"A motive for, and a purpose of, the bank robbery was to raise funds for a criminal enterprise that Sommer, [fellow defendant Tigra] Robertson and others planned to start in Canada," according to a grand-jury indictment filed Nov. 22 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

Sommer, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Canada, allegedly recruited Robertson and Nathan Dunmall, both Canadian citizens who are not members of the U.S. military, to take part in the Tacoma robbery. Robertson, 20, grew up with Sommer in Peachland, B.C., according to court documents. He is a member of the Canadian military reserves and currently resides in Kelowna, B.C.

Byrne is not mentioned in the grand-jury indictment, but during interviews with investigators in September and October, he described the "criminal enterprise" that Sommer allegedly envisioned.

"Byrne told us that Sommer had a plan to start a crime family in Kelowna, British Columbia," wrote Monte Shaide, a special agent for the FBI, in charging papers. "According to Byrne, Sommer planned to challenge the Hell's Angels for control of the drug running and extortion rackets in that area."

Byrne and Sommer started plotting to rob Chip's Casino in the summer, according to court papers. Sommer obtained satellite photos of the casino and of routes the robbers could take to get there, Byrne told Shaide.

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In July, Byrne, Sommer and two other Rangers charged with taking part in the bank robbery — Alex Blum and Chad Palmer — drove to Chip's Casino "for reconnaissance in preparation for the robbery," Shaide wrote. Byrne went inside and noted the location of gaming tables and the number of security guards and exits, according to Shaide.

Byrne allegedly did the reconnaissance because he was the only one of the four Rangers who was over the age of 21 and thus able to legally enter the casino.

Sean Hern, Sommer's attorney in British Columbia, could not be reached for comment.

Sommer, 20, was arrested in Canada in August and is serving house arrest at his mother's home in Peachland. He and Dunmall are fighting extradition to the U.S.

Robertson turned himself in to U.S. authorities in August. He has been released on bond and is living and working with an uncle in Kelowna.

Sommer and Dunmall are scheduled to appear in a British Columbia court today and a judge is expected to schedule an extradition hearing, according to Lyse Cantin, a spokeswoman for Canada's Department of Justice.

Blum and Palmer, both U.S. citizens who hold the rank of private first class in the U.S. Army Rangers, were arrested in August and charged with helping to plan and execute the robbery along with Sommer, Robertson and Dunmall.

Blum, Palmer and Robertson have pleaded not guilty to all charges stemming from the bank robbery. They are scheduled to go to trial Jan. 29.

Ranger Richard Olinger, who, like Sommer, is a specialist fourth class, last month pleaded guilty to storing hand grenades and a homemade bomb for Sommer in a storage unit in Parkland.

The Rangers are an elite, highly trained branch of the Army. To become a Ranger, a soldier must pass a series of strenuous physical and mental tests over a training period of roughly six months.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com

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