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Man who robbed 20 S.L. banks is ‘lucky,’ gets only 17 1/2-year term

SHARE Man who robbed 20 S.L. banks is ‘lucky,’ gets only 17 1/2-year term

Moses Hernandez, the "no-one-gets-hurt" robber who robbed more than 20 Salt Lake Valley banks, received what a judge called a "major, major break" this week.

"I cannot imagine a more lenient sentence under the circumstances," said U.S. District Judge Dee Benson on Monday as he sentenced Hernandez to 17 1/2 years in prison plus a fine.Putting a man behind bars for 17 1/2 years may not seem lenient, but the judge admitted he didn't understand how he legally could avoid sending Hernandez away for life, under the mandatory "three strikes, you're out" federal law.

His prior felony convictions included a 1992 drug charge for distributing 10 pounds of marijuana, another bank robbery and aggravated robbery. Then came the latest incidents, where he pleaded guilty to eight counts.

On Jan. 11, Hernandez pleaded guilty to robbing: Wells Fargo Bank, Foothill Drive, of $1,093, on Jan. 9, 1998; Washington Federal Savings, Highland Drive, of $463, on Jan. 20, 1998; Wells Fargo at Foothill Drive, of $2,350 on April 29, 1998; Brighton Bank, Highland Drive, of $2,700 on May 18, 1998; Wells Fargo on Highland Drive, of $1,680, on June 1, 1998; Bank One on Highland Drive, of $4,128, on June 1, 1998; First Security Bank in Murray, of $2,110, on July 20, 1998; and U.S. Bank on 21st South, of $3,349, on the same day as the previous robbery.

In almost all cases, he handed tellers a note that said, "Give me the money and no one gets hurt."

After he was arrested, Hernandez entered into a plea agreement in which he would get a 20-year sentence in exchange for agreeing to plead guilty and clear up other robberies. It turned out he was involved in 20 bank robberies altogether.

Two others were involved in some of the crimes, and federal authorities now have information about them.

In addition to more bank robbery charges, Hernandez could have faced a charge of being a career criminal. "Mr. Hernandez was determined to be a career criminal," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brooke C. Wells said.

During sentencing, the 35-year-old Hernandez told Benson, "I understand the seriousness of the impact of the crimes I committed." He said he was sorry for the pain he caused his family and victims and planned to "pay back society" for the harm he had caused.

Robert M. Archuleta, his attorney, and Wells detailed the plea agreement to Benson. The judge seemed surprised that they could offer Hernandez 20 years in light of the "three strikes, you're out" law.

Benson quoted from the law that the defendant "shall be sentenced to life imprisonment" if he has earlier had convictions of two violent crimes or a violent crime and a drug crime, then commits another serious crime. Bank robbery meets that definition, whether or not the robber shows a weapon.

"Well, what about the law? Does anybody care about the law?" Benson asked.

Wells said the plea agreement was screened by higher authorities than herself, and it was approved. To trigger the three-strikes law, the U.S. attorney's office has to file a separate motion saying it is appropriate. She said the office would not do that, because of the plea agreement.

"Both sides say I can" avoid the life sentence, Benson said.

However, Wells asked him to depart upward from federal sentencing guidelines. Hernandez would have received a sentence of 15 years on the latest crimes for which he pleaded guilty, under the guidelines. The agreement was for 20 years, which Wells thought was needed because of the seriousness of the many crimes.

In addition to the prison time, Hernandez must pay $17,873 in restitution, and three years' probation after the prison term. With about 53 days off for good behavior every year, Hernandez could be out in less than 15 years.