Harris, 26, was arrested. He admitted committing five robberies and one aborted robbery, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced last week in federal court in Norfolk to 15 years in prison. The case was first reported by the Virginian-Pilot.
And while using a blank starter check as a holdup note may be comical, federal prosecutors would remind us that having a gun pointed at you during a robbery is not.
The branch manager of the Wells Fargo Bank was eight months pregnant when Harris walked in that day last January, which not only ruined the baby shower planned for later that day, but caused her such anxiety that she took off the last three weeks of work before giving birth, prosecutors wrote in a court brief. “The stress of coming to work,” the woman told prosecutors, “and being afraid to stand in my lobby or with my tellers without having a panic attack became unbearable.”
Harris could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, assistant federal public defender Rodolfo Cejas II, did not return a message seeking comment. But in a memorandum to the court, Cejas said Harris was “very sorry” for his criminal conduct and was “eager to prove to the Court, and to himself, that he can turn his life around.”
Prosecutors noted that Harris had a lengthy criminal history beginning at age 16 with a robbery, followed in adulthood by grand larceny, burglary and attempted carjacking. This perhaps contributed to U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson’s decision not to reduce Harris’s potential sentence, but to impose eight years for conspiracy and robbery, and seven years for using a gun in said crimes.
Harris’s robbery rampage lasted less than two weeks. On Jan. 2, court records show, he and a friend entered a Title Max store in Portsmouth, Va., where both brandished guns and escaped with $7,200. Two days later, they entered another Title Max in Portsmouth, handed over an unspecified demand note and escaped with $2,200. And two days after that, a woman walked into a third Title Max in Portsmouth, pretended to be interested in obtaining a title loan, then handed a title to an employee which had a note taped to it reading, “Don’t push the panic button and don’t call the police.” Harris admitted to being the getaway driver, and that robbery netted only $100.
One week later, on Jan. 13, Harris walked into a cash advance store in Portsmouth and handed over a note which stated, “Stay calm don’t hit the panic button and give me the $$.” The employee handed over money to Harris but said she needed to keep his paperwork. Harris pulled out a gun and “demanded his paperwork back,” the court records state. His note was returned to him and Harris fled with $240.
The next day, Harris moved up from title companies to banks. At 10:40 a.m., he went into a BB&T Bank branch in Chesapeake, Va., and passed a note on a blank check which read, “Stay calm do not hit any alarms gimme all the $$ no one gets hurt and everyone goes home and no dye packs.” But before Harris could get the money, he spotted a police car outside so he scooped up his demand note and walked out without any cash, an FBI affidavit stated.
But less than two hours later, Harris entered the Wells Fargo branch on Portsmouth Boulevard in Chesapeake and handed the teller his ill-fated note on the starter check:
“Stay calm don’t hit no alarm gimme the $$ no dye packs no one gets hurt everybody goes home.”
Demanding yet reassuring, slightly amended from the note earlier in the morning. Or, more likely, the exact same note Harris had passed and withdrawn from the earlier robbery, with the earlier teller’s memory of the wording just slightly off. The Wells Fargo teller complied, and Harris escaped with the aforementioned $2,701, and no messy dye pack.
However, this time he left the note behind. A sharp-eyed employee recognized the starter check from their bank, and the dominoes soon fell.
Harris was arrested in Portsmouth three days later, with a .40-caliber pistol in his car. He confessed to the robberies, and told police that the gun was the one he’d used in the crimes.