a security camera image of a bank robbery
A security camera snapped a portrait of a robbery at the Lake Sunapee Bank in West Rutland, Vt., on Oct. 7, 2011, one of five that raised restitution issues. ()

A bank cannot be reimbursed for “wanted” posters and other expenses related to a bank robbery under the federal restitution statute, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held Monday.

Finding there were limits to compensable expenses under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act, the circuit told a lower court to recalculate the payments to a Vermont bank by the convicted bank-robbing team of John Maynard and Jill Ludwig.

Judges Amalya Kearse (See Profile), Dennis Jacobs (See Profile) and Barrington Parker (See Profile) decided the appeal in United States v. Maynard and Ludwig, 12-5106, with Jacobs writing for the court that the law allows only for restitution for necessary expenses incurred by a crime victim.

Maynard and Ludwig hit five banks in Vermont in 2011, the first being Merchants Bank in Rutland on Sept. 7. In each robbery, the couple entered the bank, passed the teller a note claiming they had a gun and demanded money.

They were captured on Nov. 2, 2011, within hours of robbing a Citizens Bank in Poultney. Ludwig pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery and Maynard to one count of conspiracy.

Judge Christina Reiss of the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont sentenced Ludwig in 2012 to three years and one month in prison and Maynard to five years. Reiss also ordered the pair to pay restitution of $21,852, $12,966 of which was to pay Merchants Bank.

More than half of that $12,966 was to reimburse Merchants for the money and was not contested on appeal. However, the defendants contested restitution for “wanted” posters, paid time off for the bank’s regular staff to handle any robbery-related trauma, pay and mileage expenses for replacement staff, and the cost of a temporary security guard.

But on the appeal, Jacobs said only some of the restitution was appropriate under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. §§3663-64, (MVRA), and the $106.66 the bank paid to put up “wanted” posters in the neighborhood was not included.

Jacobs explained that the statute, passed to hold criminals responsible for the losses they inflict, lists specific harms that are compensable, and there is no provision that gives district courts the discretion to order any other restitution outside of that list.

“The Government seems to suggest that any and all losses are compensable to the extent they were ‘directly and proximately’ caused by the defendant’s offense,” Jacobs said. “However, the requirements of direct and proximate causation … are necessary conditions under the MVRA—not sufficient ones.”

The court said some, but not all, costs associated with the bank’s being closed as a crime scene on the day of the robbery are compensable. Restitution is proper, for instance, to the extent the bank paid its regular staff for the remainder of the day, but payment for temporary staff is not.

On the latter, Jacobs said “The expense is arguably attributable to the psychological recovery of the regular staff present during the robbery; however, the MVRA unambiguously limits recovery for psychological harm to instances of ‘bodily injury.’”

Turning to the wanted posters and the $572.52 in restitution for the security guard, the court said the only conceivable part of the statute that would cover these costs is §3663A(b)(4): reimbursement to the victim for “necessary…expenses incurred during participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense or attendance at proceedings related to the offense.”

“Generally, this Circuit takes a broad view of what expenses are ‘necessary’,” Jacobs said. “But respect for the limits of the statute is not a narrowing of it.”

Jacobs called the wanted posters “gratuitous.”

“The crime had been committed; there was no especial likelihood that this bank would again be the victim of the same robbers;” he said. “The police had an ongoing investigation and did not seek the bank’s cooperation in postering the neighborhood; and the bank has no interest to protect by an independent investigatory effort—and certainly no duty to undertake it.”

For many of the same reasons, he said, the cost of the extra security guard was not compensable, and the court proceeded to remand the case for Reiss to recalculate restitution.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Steven Barth argued for Maynard.

Nancy Waples of Hoff Curtis in Burlington, Vt., argued for Ludwig.

“These were consequential and incidental damages after the bank robbery, and I just argued that they were not the proximate or direct result of the robbery,” Waples said Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow argued for the government.