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Former organic farmer pleads guilty to robbery spree that included Tacoma bank

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on March 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
March 18, 2010 12:05 pm

This just in from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle:

MICHAEL JOHN FENTER, 40, of Port Townsend, Washington, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to three counts of Bank Robbery, one count of Armed Bank Robbery and one count of Possession of a firearm during a crime of violence. FENTER admits in his plea agreement that he robbed banks in Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco and Sacramento. FENTER was arrested October 8, 2009, following the robbery of a Bank of America branch on South 9th Street in Tacoma. Officers located FENTER following the robbery and recovered $73,000 stolen from the bank. FENTER is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle on June 14, 2010.

According to the plea agreement, on February 4, 2009, FENTER entered a Washington Mutual Bank branch on 4th Avenue in Seattle. FENTER asked one of the tellers to meet with him at a desk. FENTER claimed he had highly explosive material in a briefcase he was carrying, and said he could wipe out the bank. FENTER told the teller to fill a black bag he was carrying with money. FENTER threatened to detonate the bomb by remote control if the teller called police. FENTER escaped with $9,200.

FENTER used the same bomb ruse twice in California. On April 15, 2009, he robbed a Bank of America branch in San Francisco. FENTER told the victim teller that his name was “Patrick Henry,” and he represented an organization that was angry about how the Government was spending “bail-out” money and that he intended to take the money and give it to people who needed it. The distraught teller filled the bag with $43,000. FENTER told her if she called police too soon after he left, he would detonate the bomb using his cell phone. In August 2009, FENTER robbed a Wells Fargo branch in Sacramento, saying the money was for “the cause.” He claimed to have associates outside the bank and showed the bank manager an ear piece as if he were in touch with conspirators who could detonate the bomb. FENTER escaped from the bank with $34,000.

On October 8, 2009, FENTER entered the Bank of America branch in Tacoma and told the Assistant Manager that he wanted to make a large transaction. FENTER sat at the managers desk, and showed her the contents of a black box that appeared to contain wires and an antenna. FENTER told the Assistant Manager that he had a triggering device for the bomb. FENTER said that the robbery was not about the bank, but about a fight against the Government. FENTER told the Assistant Manager she had ten minutes to fill his black bag with money. Another bank employee saw what was going on and called police with his cell phone. FENTER was apprehended a short distance away from the bank. He had a fully loaded Glock .40 caliber pistol in a holster on his hip. The object he claimed was a bomb was disabled and analyzed. The device contained a commercial grade blasting cap and battery. The two were not wired together. Had they been wired, the blasting cap could have exploded injuring anyone nearby.

The bank robbery charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Armed Bank Robbery is punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Possession of a Firearm during a crime of violence is punishable by a mandatory minimum five years in prison and up to life in prison, and must be served consecutive to any other sentence.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Tacoma Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Jerry Costello. Mr. Costello is a Deputy Pierce County Prosecutor, specially designated to prosecute gun crimes in federal court.

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