Deputies search for gunmen in string of bar robberies

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Bar owners, employees and concerned customers met with Manatee County Sheriff's deputies about the ongoing, late-night armed robberies that have plagued bars for months.

"I promise you we are working active leads right now," Lt. Bob Mealy told a packed bar room. "We absolutely, positively know that there's somebody or there's multiple people out there in the community that know who's doing these robberies."

Investigators could not elaborate on what leads they've gathered or give descriptions of the suspects seen in surveillance video.

In April, those videos showed masked men armed with pistols and rifles barrel into Bubba's Too and the Dolphin Lounge. At the time, the sheriff's office said the group got away with thousands of dollars.

Since then, there have been similar robberies at other bar rooms throughout Manatee County.

"They're scared, and I don't blame them. I'm scared for them. It's hard for me to leave my business at night knowing that I've got people that I love and care about working and knowing that this could happen to them," Brent Cohenour, owner of Dolphin and Gator Lounges said.

He hosted dozens of bartenders and owner Monday night to talk about their safety concerns.

"My concern is for my customers and my employees. We're all just out here trying to make an honest living," Joe Cuervo, owner of the Drift In, said.

"We have not been hit yet and we're doing everything in our power to prevent it," Melony Bailey said.

Those that have been hit questioned deputies about what to do if it happens again.

"Trust your gut. If you have a feeling, you know, the hair is standing up on the back of your neck and something's telling you that this isn't right, I don't feel good. It's probably true," Lt. Mealy said.

Investigators collected names and phone numbers for bar owners and employees.

The sheriff's office plans to meet with each person to address their concerns.

In addition to the $1,000 Crimestoppers reward, bar employees collected cash to build a larger reward for information.