News and Press Releases

Defendant Robbed Four Banks Across the West Using Fake Bomb

July 26, 2010

MICHAEL JOHN FENTER, 40, of Port Townsend, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to ten years in prison, five of supervised release and $86,000 in restitution for 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 pleaded guilty March 18, 2010 admitting 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. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle noted that one of the victim tellers appropriately called Fenter a “terrorist.” The Judge said the tellers “had been given a life sentence of reliving the terror” of the bank robberies.

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 manager’s 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.

In his sentencing memo, Special Assistant United States Attorney Jerry Costello noted that the robberies were prompted by greed, and that they traumatized the bank employees. “The victims understandably feared being blown to bits or being maimed for life - along with others - by the apparent bomb Defendant carried. One of the victims was so frightened that she lost emotional control. Creating intense, palpable fear is exactly what Defendant wanted, and his motivations are reprehensible. The victims will never forget the day that Defendant both threatened their lives and invaded their psyches,” Mr. Costello wrote in his sentencing memo.

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.

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

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