'Granddad Bandit' pleads not guilty
by Larry O'Dell
Associated Press Writer
September 11, 2010 12:00 AM | 735 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RICHMOND, Va. - The suspect in bank robberies across the U.S. who was nicknamed the "Granddad Bandit" by the FBI pleaded not guilty to two of the robberies Friday in federal court in Virginia.

Michael Francis Mara, 53, of Baton Rouge, La., is suspected in 25 bank heists in 13 states. The FBI dubbed the balding and graying Mara the "Granddad Bandit" to help law enforcement and the public easily identify the suspect, whose picture was posted on billboards across the country.

Mara was arrested last month after a six-hour standoff with police at his home. A federal magistrate on Friday ordered Mara detained until his trial, which another judge scheduled for Nov. 18. The federal public defender representing Mara requested a jury trial.

Wearing gray-striped prison garb and leg shackles, Mara listened attentively as a Richmond FBI agent laid out the case against him during a 40-minute detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Dohnal.

The agent, Michael Termyn, said Mara admitted to investigators that he had robbed several banks across the country. Mara also told investigators he stole a 2006 Toyota Sequoia because his older-model Ford Crown Victoria had nearly 200,000 miles on it had become too unreliable for use in the holdups, Termyn testified.

He said authorities seized the Toyota SUV from a storage shed Mara was renting. Inside, they found several guns, fast-food receipts from several states, a small amount of cash, numerous license plates from several states and various fake identifications, the agent said.

The public defender, Elizabeth Wilson, said the guns belonged to Mara's stepson. Mara did not display a gun during any of the robberies, although some tellers thought he was armed because he put his hand in a pocket after handing them a note demanding money, Termyn said.

In the two Richmond robberies, the suspect handed a teller a note demanding a specific amount of cash. The note instructed the teller not to activate any alarms and to return the note along with the money. The robber then calmly walked out and vanished.

Termyn said authorities learned of similar bank robberies in other states, and video surveillance confirmed that the same person was responsible. The FBI launched a media campaign, including press releases and billboard ads, and got a break on Aug. 2 when a tipster provided Mara's name and a Virginia Beach address.

Investigators learned that Mara had been evicted from that residence, but further investigation turned up rental car records that placed Mara in Baton Rouge. Police staked out the home and arrested him on Aug. 11. Inside the house, police found a large amount of cash in a black zippered bag and about 15 "demand notes" written on deposit slips, Termyn said.

The suspect's wife, Patsy Mara, said last month that she believed her husband once worked as a paramedic and most recently for FEMA on disaster recovery. She also said she never knew of his list of criminal convictions in Virginia for grand larceny, forgery and breaking and entering, crimes dating back to 1981.

Dohnal cited that long criminal history, Mara's use of multiple aliases and the danger that he would flee, in ordering him detained until trial. If convicted, Mara faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the two bank robbery charges.
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