Passaic County, New Jersey, Woman Sentenced to 37 Months in Prison for Crime Spree that Included Robbing Bergen County Bank
She and Co-Defendant Disguised Themselves as Nuns in Attempted Hold-Up in Pennsylvania
NEWARK, N.J. – A Passaic County, New Jersey, woman, was sentenced today to 37 months in prison for 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, 24, of Passaic, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler 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. Judge Chesler imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.
Her co-defendant, Swahilys Pedraza-Rodriguez, 20, of New Haven, Connecticut, pleaded guilty before Judge Chesler on April 5, 2018, to an information charging her with the same offenses. She is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 13, 2018.
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.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Chesler sentenced Aria to three years of supervised release and ordered her to pay $2,900 in restitution to Spencer Savings Bank.
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.