Two men who state prosecutors charged with robbing the Vineyard Haven branch of Rockland Trust will now face federal charges after the U.S. attorney’s office said they stole about $39,000 in cash and threatened tellers with guns.

According to a release from the office of Rachael Rollins, the U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts, Miquel Jones, 30, of Edgartown and Omar Johnson, 39, of Canterbury N.H. have each been charged in federal court with one count of armed bank robbery.

Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Johnson have appeared in court in Edgartown and been charged at the state level with conspiracy and masked armed robbery. They are being held on $300,000 bail at the Edgartown jail. The release from the U.S. attorney’s office stated that they would appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.

Cape and Islands district attorney Michael O’Keefe has overseen the investigation, which has involved local police and the FBI. But he said in a phone call Friday that the case would eventually be turned over to the Department of Justice now that the two men face federal charges. 

"The feds have ultimate jurisdiction, if they chose to exercise their jurisdiction, because bank robbery is a federal crime," Mr. O'Keefe said. 

Mr. Johnson consulting with his attorney, Janice Bassil. — Ray Ewing

While surveillance video showed three people who participated in the heist, Mr. O'Keefe said Friday that state police detectives assigned to the district attorney's office, local police and the FBI were continuing to search for more than one additional suspect, although he did not say how many. 

"There are others that we have our eyes on," Mr. O'Keefe said. "We’re certainly working, as we have since the beginning of the case, jointly with our federal partners to make sure all these people are rounded up."

New details of the crime emerged in the release from federal prosecutors, who said that Mr. Jones, Mr. Johnson and a third individual forced their way into the rear door of the Vineyard Haven Rockland Trust, wearing masks and brandishing semi-automatic handguns. The release said video surveillance showed one of the robbers using a walkie-talkie.

Federal prosecutors said in the release that the robbers threatened bank employees with a gun to get into the bank vault.

“Once inside the bank, one of the individuals allegedly held a gun to the head of one of the bank employees and forced him to open the bank’s vault,” the release states. “It is further alleged that the individuals entered the vault and took approximately $39,100, then bound the employees with duct tape and plastic zip ties, demanded access to one of their vehicles, and left the premises in an employee’s car.”

An affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston by an FBI agent named Daniel Conlon stated that Mr. Jones worked as a landscaper with the spouse of the bank employee whose car was stolen. The bank employee told the robbers that the key fob for the vehicle was inside the car, according to the court filing. 

After abandoning the car in a parking lot, surveillance showed that the robbers left in a different vehicle that state prosecutors have said was a Hyundai Elantra belonging to Mr. Johnson and driven by Mr. Jones.

Additional evidence discovered in searches implicates the two men, the release stated.

“It is alleged that subsequent searches by law enforcement resulted in the recovery of three $100 bills and clothing consistent with the individuals’ in Jones’ car; a black handgun from Johnson’s home; and paperwork reflecting both a money transfer to Jamaica in the approximate amount of $700 and cash deposits in the amount of $4,100 made at a bank in Connecticut in Johnson’s car,” the release said.

A search of a Vineyard Haven farm used by a local landscaping company that employs Mr. Jones also revealed a glove, a paper money band, a zip tie and multiple rubber bands that were consistent with the robbery, the release said. Investigators also observed an area of the farm that appeared to have had a recent fire, finding burned pieces of nylon, metal plastic consistent with a white mask, burned walkie-talkie pieces, an antennae, batteries and pieces of metal consistent with a duffel bag zipper, the release said.

Rockland Trust at the morning of the robbery. — Ray Ewing

They also found two loaded, nine-millimeter handguns “buried inches under the ground,” according to federal prosecutors.

“These items, including the handguns, were consistent with items possessed by the robbers during the robbery of the Rockland Trust bank,” the release states.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, all six Island police departments, as well as the state police, the Cape and Islands district attorney’s office and the FBI all aided in the investigation, which has stretched from Vineyard Haven to New Haven.

The U.S. attorney’s office said in the release that the investigation is still ongoing. 

Mr. Johnson was arraigned in Edgartown district court Friday. During the proceeding, Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Michael Giardino also provided new details of the investigation into events that unfolded in the moments both before and after the Nov. 17 heist. He described how police tracked phones, found suspicious text messages and Google searches and ultimately recovered the weapons and masks used in the robbery that implicated Mr. Jones and Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Jones was arrested on Nov. 18 after police identified the Hyundai Elantra owned by Mr. Johnson and used in the getaway. The car was being operated by Mr. Jones, who agreed to an interview with the police, Mr. Giardino said. In the interview, Mr. Jones admitted to being with Mr. Johnson on Martha’s Vineyard on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17, and that he had been driving the Hyundai Elantra on the morning of the robbery, according to Mr. Giardino. Surveillance video also showed that shortly after the robbery, Mr. Johnson arrived at the Vineyard Haven Stop Shop parking lot in the Hyundai Elantra, Mr. Giardino said. Video then shows Mr. Johnson exiting the car and entering a silver sedan, which police identified as the vehicle he drove to Martha’s Vineyard from New Hampshire, according to Mr. Giardino.

Mr. Jones agreed to let police look at his cell phone, Mr. Giardino said.

“In his cell phone, they found text messages of significance,” Mr. Giardino said. “Text messages sent on the evening of November 16 said, ‘“Just came in from jomo them.... I’ll call you in the morning babe... we on a lil mission so
our calls won’t go through till about 9 ok.’”

“Police confirmed that Jomo is his nickname for Mr. Johnson, the defendant before you today,” he said.

Deleted Google search history on Mr. Jones’s phone also called for “security measures at a bank” and “security measures used to combat bank robbery,” Mr. Giardino said.

After Mr. Johnson was arrested in Connecticut, he told police that he was on the Island and with Mr. Jones on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17, and that the pair met up with another individual, he said. Only two men have been charged in the robbery so far.

Mr. Johnson also told police he drove back to New Hampshire with one or two more individuals on Nov. 17, the prosecutor said.

“Officers indicated in the report that they believe him to be evasive or deceptive answering questions,” Mr. Giardino continued.

Law enforcement also tracked Mr. Jones and Mr. Johnson’s cell phone locations on the day of the robbery, ultimately using the data to find mask remnants, firearms and burnt plastic strips consistent with materials and weapons used in the heist, Mr. Giardino said.

The two phones started tracking together on the evening of Nov. 16, and then tracked Mr. Jones and Mr. Johnson to an area nearby the back of the Rockland Trust, the prosecutor said. Shortly after the robbery, the phones started moving to an area where Mr. Jones works. Police found the weapons, masks and other materials connected to the robbery in that area, Mr. Giardino said.

Phones then tracked Mr. Johnson to the Steamship Authority, where surveillance video shows him using Mr. Jones’s profile identification to get on the ferry, Mr. Giardino said.

Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Johnson are Jamaican citizens.

Janice Bassil, a Boston-based defense attorney who represented Mr. Johnson in court, disputed a number of the findings Friday, providing her client’s narrative of events. According to Ms. Bassil, Mr. Johnson submitted to five hours of police interrogation, and adamantly denied being involved in the robbery throughout the length of the questioning. She also said that Mr. Jones has denied being involved in the robbery during questioning.

Ms. Bassil said Mr. Jones was romantically involved with Mr. Johnson’s sister, explaining their relationship. She said that Mr. Johnson came to Martha’s Vineyard to clear up a dispute regarding the manner in which Mr. Jones had been treating his sister, not to rob a bank, and that the text messages sent from Mr. Jones’s phone could have a variety of interpretations.

“He told the police that he did come to Martha’s Vineyard,” Ms. Bassil said. “He came to Martha’s Vineyard to discuss Mr. Jones’s behavior and treatment of Mr. Johnson’s sister, which, in his opinion, and the family’s opinion, was not entirely good, and he wanted to discuss it with him face to face. As I said, he adamantly denies being involved in any kind of bank robbery.”

Ms. Bassil also questioned the relevance of evidence used in the case.

“The Commonwealth did not say that the [technology] tracked my client’s phone to the bank, or the location of the bank, on the morning and robbery,” Ms. Bassil said. “And while I can’t comment on Mr. Jones, it appears much of the information appears to be tied to him, more than to Mr. Johnson.”

Ms. Bassil said Mr. Johnson was the principal caregiver of his two young children, and that his wife in New Hampshire is a licensed nursing assistant. She said his family had been evicted from their apartment after the charges against Mr. Johnson became public.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Johnson are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Boston on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 2:30 p.m.

Updated to include details of the federal charges, and comment from the Cape and Islands district attorney.