BANGOR, Maine — A former Greyhound bus driver pleaded guilty Friday to robbing 11 banks in six Northeastern states, including the robbery in Oronothat led to his arrest in July and brought an end to a three-month spree.
Robert Ferguson, 47, of Lowell, Mass., entered his guilty pleas during an appearance in U.S. District Court, accompanied by his court-appointed attorney, Jon Haddow of Bangor.
Dubbed the “Burly Bandit” because of his husky physique, Ferguson used a variety of disguises, including wigs, hats and fake facial hair, during his crime spree, authorities said.
Ferguson’s demeanor in court was calm. He responded to questions respectfully as he stood with his arms behind his back.
Investigators also said he used two toy guns and a BB gun in some of the heists “in the hopes that he would intimidate tellers into giving him more money,” according to documents filed Friday in federal court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Torresen said Friday that Ferguson’s robbery haul totaled about $107,000. Though he used some of the money to pay bills, Ferguson also spent much of it on entertainment and “frivolous items,” she said.
His expenditures included expensive sports memorabilia, car stereo equipment, a $3,500 mattress and tickets to Blue Man Group, Charlie Daniels and other shows, Torresen said during Friday’s proceedings.
Noting that Ferguson was known as a “big tipper,” Torresen said he also “indulged in visits to strip clubs where he would often drop $2,000 to $3,000 a night.”
When interviewed by investigators, Ferguson’s fiancee said he also took a group out to a very expensive steakhouse for Mother’s Day.
Investigators said that many of the robberies, with the exception of those near his home, were committed along Ferguson’s bus routes while he was driving for Greyhound.
In accepting the pleas, Judge John Woodcock said Ferguson faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each of the six unarmed robberies. The maximum penalty for each of the armed robberies carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, he said.
Woodcock also said Ferguson could be required to pay restitution to the banks he robbed, as well as special assessment for each of the 11 counts.
The July 13 robbery of the Bangor Savings Bank in Orono was the only one for which Ferguson was indicted. On Friday, he waived indictment for the 10 others, the first of which occurred on April 9 in Buffalo, N.Y.
He reportedly left with about $11,000, $10,925 of which was recovered from the Greyhound he parked outside the Days Inn on Odlin Road in Bangor, where he was arrested the next day thanks to tips from the public.
Ferguson told investigators that except for what was recovered from the Orono robbery, he spent all of the money that he stole. In a financial declaration he completed for the court, Ferguson listed “no assets whatsoever,” Woodcock noted. He said Ferguson also listed no liabilities other than monthly household expenses.
Torresen said Ferguson, who wore a white dress shirt and black slacks during Friday’s appearance, has a fiancee and a son.
After his court appearance, Ferguson was returned to Piscataquis County Jail in Dover-Foxcroft, where he is being held pending sentencing, which will be held at a later date.
Friday’s court proceedings were followed by a news conference in Portland that included officials and members of the media from Bangor, Boston, Rhode Island and Vermont, who participated by videoconference.
In Portland, U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II was joined by FBI special agent Margaret Cronin, who coordinated the multijurisdictional investigation, and Richard DesLauriers, FBI special agent in charge for New England.
In Bangor, Torresen, who served as lead federal prosecutor, was joined by FBI special agents James Herbert and James McCarty and Orono police Capt. Josh Ewing, who received an “atta boy” for his role in the Burly Bandit’s arrest, including releasing the surveillance images that yielded the tips that led police to the Days Inn.
During a new conference after Friday’s proceedings, Delahanty credited Ferguson’s apprehension to solid police work and cooperation and help from concerned citizens.
Delahanty noted that Ferguson’s robberies were “remarkably consistent. He would enter a bank, demand money, make reference to a gun or show a gun and threaten to kill or harm the bank’s employees if they did not do what he asked,” he said.
“He intimidated roughly 20 tellers into turning over the bank or the credit union’s money. He wore various disguises and he always left on foot and walked to a vehicle some distance away,” he said, adding, “We take bank robberies very seriously in the state of Maine and at sentencing this office intends to request that the court impose a significant sentence.”
The dates and locations of the burglaries to which Ferguson pleaded guilty, all of which occurred this year:
— April 9, M&T Bank, Buffalo, N.Y.
— April 17, Chittenden Bank, Burlington, Vt.
— April 29, Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank, Tewskbury, Mass.
— May 5, Digital Credit Union, Tyngsboro, Mass.
— May 17, Rollstone Bank & Trust, Fitchburg, Mass.
— May 27, Pawtucket Federal Credit Union, Warwick, R.I.
— May 27, Rockland Federal Credit Union, North Attleboro, Mass.
— June 1, Hampshire First Bank, Londonderry, N.H.
— June 1, Pentucket Bank, Hampstead, N.H.
— July 2, Ocean Bank, Merri-mack, N.H.
— July 13, Bangor Savings Bank, Orono, Maine.