News and Press Releases

Canadian Planned to Use Robbery Proceeds to Start “Crime Family"

December 12, 2008

LUKE E. SOMMER, 22, of Peachland, British Columbia, Canada, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 24 years in prison and 5 years of supervised release for Conspiracy to Commit Armed Bank Robbery, Armed Bank Robbery, Brandishing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence, and Possession of an Unregistered Destructive Device – Hand Grenade. SOMMER was transferred in May 2008, from Canadian custody to U.S. Custody at the Peace Arch border crossing at Blaine, Washington. SOMMER, who holds both U.S. and Canadian citizenship, had fled to Canada and fought extradition following the August 7, 2006, bank robbery in Tacoma, Washington. U.S. District Court Judge Franklin D. Burgess imposed the sentence agreed to in SOMMER’s plea agreement saying, “You touched a lot of people here, all in a negative way.”

According to documents filed in the case, SOMMER recruited two other U.S. Army Rangers, Chad Palmer and Alex Blum, and Canadian nationals, Tigra J.A. Robertson and Nathan R. Dunmall, to participate in the August 7, 2006, robbery of the Bank of America on South Tacoma Way. SOMMER recruited Blum to drive the getaway car. SOMMER discussed his plans at length with a sixth defendant, Scott A. Byrne, who was a “consultant” on the robbery. At a meeting the day before the robbery, SOMMER provided Palmer and Dunmall with loaded fully automatic AK-47 machine guns. SOMMER and Robertson carried loaded semi-automatic hand guns. The men wore soft body armor to protect themselves in case of a shoot-out with police and carried hundreds of round of extra ammunition. SOMMER told Byrne and others that he wanted to use the proceeds of the robbery to start a crime family to rival the Hell’s Angels in British Columbia, Canada.

The robbery occurred at 5:15 PM on August 7, 2006. Blum drove the armed men to the bank. The men entered the bank in black masks and military garb. Over the two minutes of the robbery the men ordered the tellers to turn over their money and open the vault. SOMMER told the bank employees that they would be “wasted” if they did not comply. SOMMER’s pistol had a laser sight, and SOMMER fixed the sight on the tellers’ bodies during the robbery. The robbers were fully prepared for a shoot out with police, even bringing a military medical kit with them in case one of them were shot.

The men escaped with more than $50,000. An alert bystander spotted the license plate of Blum’s car and reported it to the police. The car was traced to Fort Lewis where evidence of the crime was uncovered at the men’s barracks. SOMMER had already left for his parent’s home in Peachland, Canada. He was arrested there and put on house arrest pending extradition to the United States. SOMMER later absconded from house arrest and was later arrested in a suburb of Vancouver B.C.

Calling it “one of the most dangerous bank robberies ever committed in Washington,” prosecutors asked for an agreed upon 24 year sentence. “SOMMER and his gang were prepared for combat. If the police had shown up during the robbery, there would have been a bloodbath on the streets of Tacoma,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

Originally SOMMER claimed the robbery was to attract attention to his claims of witnessing war crimes in Iraq. SOMMER never provided any proof of his claims and prosecutors labeled those claims shameful, saying SOMMER “ tried for months to justify the bank robbery as a political statement. While on house arrest in Canada awaiting extradition, SOMMER went on a media blitz, telling radio, television, and newspaper reporters that he had witnessed atrocities committed by the U.S. military overseas. SOMMER said that the bank robbery was actually a publicity stunt designed to give him a platform to speak out against the atrocities. This was a ridiculous lie and an inexcusable insult to the soldiers that SOMMER served with,” Assistant United States Attorney Mike Dion wrote in his sentencing memo.

All of the other defendants in the case have entered guilty pleas. Chad Palmer is scheduled to be sentenced on December 16, 2008. Alex Blum is scheduled to be sentenced on March 6, 2009. Tigra Robertson is scheduled to be sentenced February 20, 2009. Sentencing dates for Scott Byrne and Nathan Dunmall have not been set.

The case was investigated by the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force, the Tacoma Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Department of Justice assisted with the apprehension and extradition of the defendants.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Dion and Jill Otake.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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