'Granddad Bandit' sentenced to 25 years in prison

Image: Michael Francis Mara
The "Granddad Bandit" is shown in surveillance video from 2008 robbing a bank in Virginia. Michael Francis Mara pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday Feb. 10, 2011 to robbing two Virginia banks and acknowledged two dozen other heists from New York to Texas. Authorities say Mara took more than $83,000, starting in Richmond in 2008 and ending with a North Carolina holdup the day before his Aug. 11 arrest. He was captured after a six-hour standoff with police at his Baton Rouge, La. home. U.S. Attorney's office / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The graying, balding bank robber who was dubbed the "Granddad Bandit" as he patiently held up more than two dozen banks in 13 states was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in prison.

Michael Francis Mara, 53, didn't address the court during his brief sentencing before U.S. District Judge James Spencer. He pleaded guilty in February to robbing two Richmond-area banks and admitted to 25 heists from New York to Texas from 2008 until his capture last summer.

Mara also must pay back the more than $83,000 he stole during the 20-month spree, in which he entered banks without a disguise, calmly gave tellers letters requesting a few thousand dollars and eluded capture.

"He is deeply remorseful and shameful of his actions," federal public defender Elizabeth Wilson told Spencer. She declined to comment further after the hearing.

Prosecutors portrayed Mara as a dual character: a socially awkward, mentally depressed man who longed to be an emergency worker, and also a conniving career criminal who has been in and out of prisons all across the nation since he was 18.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Roderick Young said 25 years may be a long sentence, but it is needed because Mara likely would commit more crimes. Mara has been undeterred by prior incarceration, he said, doing "life on the installment plan."

"Certainly, there is a strong need to protect unsuspecting bank tellers and bank customers all over the United States from a serial bank robber such as Mara," Young said in court documents.

At 18, Mara was convicted in Oklahoma of embezzlement, grand larceny and other charges. Two years later, he pretended to be a sheriff, rented a car in Atlantic City and never returned it. He also was convicted of a wide range of thefts in New Jersey, Virginia and Wisconsin and of robbing a bank in California in 1985.

Wherever he went, Mara pretended to be an emergency worker. He met his wife, Patsy, months before the bank robberies began in 2008, at a shelter for evacuees of Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana. He said he was a paramedic who had helped with the Sept. 11 cleanup in New York City. It wasn't true; he was in prison for some Virginia gun thefts at the time.

By the time they were married in June 2009 — he wore his EMS uniform during the ceremony — the Granddad Bandit already had robbed five banks in Virginia, Alabama, Texas and Georgia.

The FBI dubbed Mara the Granddad Bandit to help law enforcement and the public identify him. The agency plastered bank surveillance photos of Mara on billboards around the country in August. A tip from someone who saw the billboard led them to Mara who, it turns out, is indeed a grandfather.

Police staked out his residence in Baton Rouge, La., but he was robbing a bank in Charlotte, N.C., when they showed up. Authorities had to wait until the next day to arrest him following a six-hour standoff at his home. Federal agents found nearly $4,000 in a black zippered bag and about 15 "demand notes" written on deposit slips.

Mara typically reaped only a few thousand dollars at each bank. His largest take reported by authorities was $6,400 from a St. Louis bank in May 2010.

In addition to the Virginia crimes, Mara acknowledged robbing banks in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, Florida and North Carolina. In court, he also acknowledged possessing an illegal weapon in Louisiana.

Mara faced up to 20 years for each charge.

Mara's public defender pointed to his health problems — both the depression and physical ailments such as gastro-intestinal problems — and the fact that he was never violent during the robberies and cooperated with authorities after his arrest as reasons for leniency. Court documents reveal that Mara did receive EMT training while he was incarcerated and as a volunteer rescue member. His attorney said that showed he had tried to better himself.

Wilson asked that Mara be placed in a penitentiary with a medical facility close to his wife in Louisiana.

Patsy Mara said she would stand by her husband, who she knew as a different person from the man who committed the crimes.

"Exactly nine months ago today the FBI arrested a man I never knew, a man that was never a part of my relationship with my husband, a man my husband never allowed to enter our home or our life together," she said in an e-mail. "I have loved and supported the man I knew Michael Mara to be and in return have been blessed to find that he is ever more than I had imagined or hoped for."

She said she wished naysayers could "know the love of a forgiving God."

After Mara's sentencing, he asked to shake Young's hand, and the prosecutor wished the robber good luck in prison.