UPDATED 05/24/11 7:18 p.m.

WHEATON, Ill. (WBBM/STMW) — The FBI and six suburban police departments are asking for the public’s help in identifying the “Wheaton Bandit.” WBBM’s Lisa Fielding reports that time is running out for authorities to charge the most prolific serial bank robbers in area history.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding Reports

In making the appeal for help, a reward of up to $50,000 is being offered for information leading to an identification and arrest before the expiration of the statute of limitations.

The “Wheaton Bandit,” so dubbed because seven of the banks he initially robbed were in the western suburb, first struck in January 2002 and continued robbing banks in the west suburbs until December 2006.

During that period, he is suspected of as many as 16 armed takeover style robberies of banks and credit unions, a release from the FBI said. No injuries were reported during any of the incidents.

The first major break in the case came in November 2006, when a passerby is believed to have caught a glimpse of the “Wheaton Bandit” without his trademark ski mask pulled over his face. This was just moments prior to the armed robbery of the Fifth Third Bank branch in Winfield.

More recently, a bank surveillance photo of a person of interest was discovered, according to the FBI. This individual, who investigators would like to identify, entered the Mid America Bank branch in Glen Ellyn in late December 2004.

He was not a customer and did not transact any business, but the bank was robbed by the “Wheaton Bandit” just two weeks later and the individual appears to fit the known physical description of the robber.

Anyone recognizing the man is asked to call the FBI at (312) 421-6700.

Witnesses have described the “Wheaton Bandit” as a white man, 25-35 at the time, 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-2 with a medium build and blue eyes. He wore different clothing in each robbery but always used a hood or ski mask to conceal his identity.

He may be left-handed and was been armed with a semi-automatic handgun during each robbery. He is thought to have prior law enforcement or military training due to the way he handled the weapon.

This case is being investigated by a task force consisting of FBI special agents and detectives from the Carol Stream, Geneva, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Wheaton and Winfield police departments.

The statute of limitations on bank robbery, a federal felony offense, is just five years. Given that the last robbery was Dec. 7, 2006, at the Glen Ellyn Bank and Trust, he must be charged by Dec. 7, 2011.

For more photos and information on the “Wheaton Bandit” and other perpetrators, click HERE

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