Shortly before she was sentenced to 11 years in prison, the young mother dubbed the “Blonde Bandit” spoke for the first time Thursday about her high-profile string of bank robberies and carjackings last fall.
Stephanie Schwab, 27, who grew up in Manassas, stood before a federal judge in an Alexandria courtroom and offered a brief apology in a timid voice that was a marked contrast to her violent crimes.
“I’m very sorry for all the horrible things I did,” said Schwab, who was clad in a green prison jumpsuit. “I’m sorry to the victims and to my family.”
The 13-day spree that stretched from Northern Virginia to Baltimore County in November was a fixture of the nightly news, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Tonolli said there was “no sense [Schwab] would stop until she was caught.”
As Schwab wiped tears from her eyes, Tonolli read from a statement from a carjacking victim who had offered Schwab a ride before she stole her car: “What I’ve learned is there are people like Stephanie Schwab who prey on people’s vulnerabilities.”
It started on Nov. 18 when Schwab stole a Chrysler minivan parked at a relative’s Fauquier County home and drove it to rob a Virginia Commerce Bank in Manassas, according to relatives and an indictment. Schwab made off with $1,368 after giving the teller a note that read “Gun Cash $10,000.”
On Nov. 19, she carjacked a woman at knifepoint at Tysons Galleria and then robbed a West Springfield BB&T bank a few days later, according to court records.
On Nov. 25, she stole a Ford Escape from a woman in Baltimore County and then tried to rob a McLean BB&T branch on Nov. 30 but fled when the teller pushed a silent alarm, documents show.
A Fairfax County officer followed Schwab from the scene into Montgomery County, police said. Schwab then swerved into oncoming traffic, causing a three-car accident. She was arrested after a brief chase on foot.
Alfred Robertson Jr., Schwab’s attorney, said her crimes were fueled by a growing heroin addiction and debt. Schwab reached a deal with prosecutors in April to admit to bank robbery and transporting stolen vehicles across state lines. She also pleaded guilty to a third unrelated charge of being part of a ring that distributed more than 700 grams of heroin. Prosecutors said they expect Schwab will face additional charges related to the crime spree in Baltimore County.
U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III told Schwab on Thursday that her case was “immensely sad,” noting that she once had an opportunity to take a different path after being placed in the federal witness protection program.
Schwab, who was once a member of Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, had testified against other gang members accused of killing her 17-year-old friend, Brenda Paz, during a 2005 trial. Paz, also a member of MS-13, was a government informant.
Robertson said Schwab, who was in witness protection in the Northeast, left because she missed her family in the Washington area. It was a fateful decision: Robertson said when she returned, she became part of a circle of old friends dealing drugs and her life spiraled downward. “I would have thought when you saw what happened to Brenda Paz, you would put as much territory between you and the criminal lifestyle” as possible, Ellis told Schwab.