By Jo-Anne MacKenzie and Mark Vogler
---- — After a string of armed robberies throughout the region that had reached a fever pitch, police believe they have captured the Merrimack Valley Bandit.
Rafael Beamud Jr., 32, of Lowell will be charged federally today with robbing TD Bank on Broadway in Methuen Feb. 21, according to FBI spokeswoman Katherine Gulotta.
But police have reason to believe Beamud may be charged with more than a dozen holdups that started in February and had store clerks and bank workers throughout the region on edge for months.
Last week, Salem police Detective Michael Bernard thought the suspect looked familiar. He sent police booking photos of Beamud to the FBI Bank Robbery Task Force. Yesterday afternoon, Beamud was detained by Salem police.
Last night, Salem Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten and Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon tipped their hats to all involved in Beamud’s arrest.
“It was a job well done by Salem detectives for paying attention and the joint task force for putting the entire case together and getting this guy off the street,” Patten said.
Working with the joint task force yesterday, Patten said, police were able to gather enough evidence to arrest Beamud. He said fingerprints from one of the robbery scenes matched the suspect information Bernard had provided the task force.
“At the point we knew Beamud was the primary suspect and knowing he frequents the Salem area, we were on the lookout for him,” Patten said last night. “Detective Steve Woidyla saw Beamud (yesterday) afternoon around 3:30 or 4, operating a vehicle.”
Woidlya pulled Beamud over and detained him while Salem police contacted the task force, Patten said.
They held Beamud in his vehicle until task force members arrived from Massachusetts and took him into custody, he said.
“At the time of his arrest, he had a couple thousand dollars in cash on him,” Patten said, noting that was “suspicious.”
Solomon also credited the North Andover Police Department with developing a tip that assisted in the arrest.
“There have been hundreds of tips,” Solomon said. “We have been following tips for three months.”
Methuen Detective John DeLano is chairman of the joint task force, formed by Lawrence and Methuen police and the FBI earlier this month. Other local departments joined later, including North Andover, Haverhill, Groveland, Dracut, Tewksbury, Chelmsford, Acton, Westford, Burlington, Hampton and Pelham.
“I was told within the last couple of days, North Andover said, ‘Hey, you might want to check out this guy,’ and, as of this afternoon, we were able to confirm that it was him,” Solomon said last night. “We reached out to Salem police and said we confirmed this is the guy.”
Solomon said North Andover Detective Dan Cronin notified DeLano several days ago he thought the robbery suspect might be Beamud.
“In the meantime, Detective DeLano asked the Massachusetts State Police to compare Beamud’s fingerprints to the prints we recovered from the TD Bank robbery on Broadway,” Solomon said.
State police confirmed at 3:30 p.m. yesterday the prints matched, he said.
“Then, John DeLano called Salem and said, ‘If you see him, we want him,’” Solomon said. “Salem did a wonderful job; they located the guy in 15 minutes. I’d like to thank the Salem detectives for locating him so rapidly.”
Solomon said Beamud would be charged locally with the robbery of the Route 110 Convenience Store on East Street in Methuen April 14.
Tension has been high among bank and convenience store workers since the robbery spree started. In all but one case, the suspect brandished a handgun.
It started at Methuen’s TD Bank in February, followed by three more robberies that month and in March. Those robberies were at TD Bank on Pleasant Valley Street and NESC Credit Union on Pleasant Street, both in Methuen, and at TD Bank on South Broadway in Lawrence.
The same Lawrence bank was held up again April 3, the first of eight robberies this month alone, including five in four days last week.
“Everywhere I went, there was a heightened level of fear by bank tellers and store clerks because of all these robberies,” Solomon said last night. “This arrest should alleviate some of their fears that the subject is now in custody and they can relax a little.”
The arrest yesterday, he said, was the culmination of a lot of hard work and coordinated efforts from area police departments.
“Detective DeLano has been full time on this, almost three months now,” he said. “It was a great coordinated effort from everyone around this area.”
Solomon said police expect further charges. Methuen detectives interviewed Beamud last night.
“All the charges from banks will be brought federally for one case,” he said.
Beamud has long been familiar to Salem police. He is the “primary and sole suspect” in a suspicious fire investigation in Salem, Patten said. That fire destroyed Beamud’s family home Feb. 18, 2012.
He was arrested Feb. 7 in Salem on drug charges after police discovered he had packed up and apparently planned to leave the area.
Before that arrest, Beamud had worked as a police confidential informant.
Once Salem police found out Beamud was about to flee, Patten said, police arrested him in the Fisk School parking lot, and charged with felony cocaine possession and a misdemeanor charge for transporting a controlled drug.
Beamud’s father, Rafael Beamud of Lawrence, has had his own troubles. In September, U.S. Marshals arrested a Salem, N.H., fugitive who was hiding in the elder Beamud’s home.
Rafael Beamud is a former Lawrence police officer and owner of the Copa Club in Lawrence. In September, the U.S. Marshals said they would summons the elder Beamud for hindering the apprehension of a fugitive and harboring a fugitive.