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Armed Bank Robber Sentenced to Life in Prison Without Parole under Federal “3 Strikes and You Are Out” Law


U.S. Attorney Calls on State Prosecutors and Police to Refer Similar Criminals for Federal Prosecution and Make Maryland More Dangerous for Criminals

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 29, 2008

Greenbelt, Maryland - U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte sentenced Giovanni Bell, age 45, of Silver Spring, today to life in federal prison without parole after he was convicted of conspiracy to commit bank robbery, bank robbery, using a firearm during a crime of violence, being a felon in possession of a firearm and being a violent felon in possession of body armor, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. Bell was found guilty by a federal jury on June 16, 2008, after a two week trial. Bell will spend the rest of his life in federal prison without parole because the federal “three strikes and you are out” law provides for a mandatory life sentence if a criminal commits a serious violent felony after he has at least two prior convictions for any serious violent crime or drug offense. Judge Messitte found that Bell was previously convicted of four armed robberies, three of which counted under the three strikes law. The three strikes law has been used only rarely in Maryland since its passage in 1994. The statute is published in the U.S. Code at Title 18, Section 3559(c).

“I am asking state prosecutors and local police to refer similar criminals for federal prosecution under the ‘three strikes’ law,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “We need not and should not allow law-abiding citizens to be victimized by recidivist criminals who are not deterred by repeated arrests and convictions. We can make Maryland more safe for honest citizens and more dangerous for criminals.”

According to evidence presented at the two week trial, the defendants conspired to rob the Commerce Bank at 350 E. Gude Drive in Rockville, where Eligwe was employed. Witnesses testified that in the days prior to the robbery, Eligwe informed Griner about Commerce Bank’s vault mechanisms. On February 19, 2007, Bell and two co-conspirators drove to Commerce Bank where Eligwe unlocked the front door of the bank so the robbers could enter. Bell and the two co-conspirators held the bank employees hostage while they waited for the vault to open. They brandished their weapons and repeatedly pistol whipped a bank employee. Griner served as a look-out during the robbery, and more than $80,000 was stolen from the bank.

Judge Messitte also sentenced co-defendant Jude Eligwe, age 23, of Lanham, Maryland, today to four years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release for conspiracy to commit bank robbery. Eligwe, a Nigerian native, is expected to be deported after serving his federal sentence. A third defendant, Richol Griner, age 31, was convicted of conspiracy to commit bank robbery, bank robbery and using a firearm during a crime of violence.

Griner, who is scheduled for sentencing on September 4, 2008, faces a maximum of 25 years in prison for the bank robbery. For the firearm charge, Griner faces a minimum sentence of seven years in prison and a maximum sentence of life. The defendants remain in federal custody.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Montgomery County Police Department for their investigative work and commended Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy and his office for their assistance in this case. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Deborah Johnston and Emily Glatfelter, who are prosecuting the case.

 

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