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Press Release

Passaic County, New Jersey, Woman Admits Role in Crime Spree that Included Robbing Bergen County Bank

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey
Co-Defendant has also Pleaded Guilty; Pair Disguised Themselves as Nuns in Attempted Hold-Up in Pennsylvania

NEWARK, N.J. – A Passaic County, New Jersey woman today admitted her role in a month-long crime spree that included attempting to rob a Citizens Bank, in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, at gunpoint, conspiring to rob a Keystone Bank in Scotrun, Pennsylvania, and robbing a Spencer Savings Bank in Garfield, New Jersey, at gunpoint, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Melisa Aquino Arias, 23, of Passaic, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler in Newark federal court to an information charging her with one count of attempted bank robbery, one count of attempted conspiracy to steal from a bank, and one count of bank robbery. On April 5, 2018, her co-defendant, Swahilys Pedraza-Rodriguez, 19, of New Haven, Connecticut, pleaded guilty before Judge Chesler in Newark to an information charging her with the same offenses.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

On Aug. 28, 2017, Arias and Pedraza-Rodriguez, both disguised in nuns’ habits, entered a Citizens Bank in Tannersville, Pennsylvania. While inside, Arias acted as a lookout as Pedraza-Rodriguez took out what appeared to be gun and demanded money from a bank teller. Arias signaled to Pedraza-Rodriguez that they should leave the bank and the women fled empty-handed.

On Sept. 20, 2017, Arias and Pedraza-Rodriguez agreed to steal money from the drive-through ATM machine at a Keystone Bank in Scotrun, Pennsylvania. Arias drove them, both wearing hijabs, to the ATM machine and again acted as a lookout while Pedraza-Rodriguez attempted to pry open the ATM machine with a screwdriver. Those attempts were unsuccessful, and the women again fled the scene.

On Sept. 27, 2017, Pedraza-Rodriguez and Arias entered a Spencer Savings Bank in Garfield, New Jersey, and asked a bank teller for information about opening a bank account. Arias, who was wearing a blue hijab, took out what appeared to be a black handgun and demanded money, while Pedraza-Rodriguez stood guard by the bank manager. After a bank teller handed them some cash, the defendants left the bank and employees immediately alerted the police. Law enforcement officers responded to the scene, but did not immediately locate the robbers. 

On Oct. 15, 2017, Pedraza-Rodriguez and Arias entered an NVE Bank in Teaneck, New Jersey. Arias wore an orange hijab and Pedraza-Rodriguez wore a black head covering. They approached a bank employee and requested information about opening a bank account. The employee recognized the women as the alleged perpetrators of the Garfield bank robbery. As the employee went to alert the police, the women left the bank. Pedraza-Rodriguez and Arias were apprehended soon after by law enforcement officers. 

The bank robbery and attempted bank robbery counts each carry maximum potential penalties of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The conspiracy to commit bank larceny count carries a maximum potential penalty of one year in prison. Sentencing for Arias is scheduled for Sept. 12, 2018. Sentencing for Pedraza-Rodriguez is scheduled for Aug. 15, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents with the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark; the Garfield Police Department, under the direction of Chief Raymond Kovach; the Teaneck Police Department, under the direction of Chief Glenn M. O'Reilly; the Leonia police department, under the direction of Chief Thomas P. Rowe; and the Pocono Township Police Department, under the direction of Chief Kent Werkheiser with the investigation leading to the guilty pleas.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua L. Haber of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.

Updated June 25, 2018

Violent Crime
Press Release Number: 18-223