BANGOR, Maine — Sometimes he wore a wig, other times sunglasses or hats, but each time Robert Ferguson robbed a bank last year he threatened to hurt the people he encountered.
Ferguson — who was dubbed the “burly bandit” by the FBI — was sentenced to 10 years and one month behind bars in federal court on Tuesday for robbing 11 banks and credit unions in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine between April and July 2010.
“Every time the defendant went into a bank he threatened to kill an employee,” U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said Tuesday during Ferguson’s sentencing.
Ferguson’s rash of robberies ended in Bangor after he took money from Bangor Savings Bank in Orono on July 13 and a local hotel employee recognized him from a surveillance image released by police.
He was arrested the next day and FBI agents connected him to the other bank and credit union thefts. He also is charged with another bank robbery in Connecticut.
Ferguson, 48, of Lowell, Mass., pleaded guilty in October to the robberies, during which he sometimes was armed with a realistic-looking toy gun.
He received 121 months for each of 11 counts, to be served concurrently, along with five years of supervised release, and also was ordered to pay restitution to the financial institutions in the amount of $81,059.
Ferguson, who wore a white dress shirt and black slacks in court, was a Greyhound bus driver and robbed the 11 financial institutions along his bus route. The money stolen from the Orono bank was found in an electrical panel inside a storage area of the bus he drove from Boston to Bangor.
Terry Nevells, assistant branch manager for Bangor Savings, was one of three people who spoke at court about how traumatized employees were after Ferguson robbed the banks where they worked.
Nevells was working the day Ferguson walked through the door wearing a gray T-shirt, bluejeans and a dark baseball cap.
He “told me he had a gun and would kill me,” she said. “Here’s a photo” of him threatening my life, she said, holding up a picture taken from a surveillance camera. “I don’t need it. This will forever be etched in my mind.”
There were four bank tellers and half a dozen customers in the Orono bank when Ferguson robbed it.
“I feared for my life, that of my co-workers and the customers,” she said. “I thought I would never see my family again.”
Nevells said Ferguson’s demeanor, his eerie calmness, smugness and cockiness inside the bank scared her the most.
“These were not just bank robberies. They were acts of terrorism,” she said.
During the sentencing, Woodcock quoted Nevells, saying the statement demonstrated how scared bank employees were of Ferguson.
In each of Ferguson’s robberies he used the same technique, but stepped up his game after the fourth one when he decided to use a toy gun that looked real, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Torresen told the court.
“The first four robberies involved using a note,” she said. “After that he bought a silver gun, a toy gun, to increase the level of intimidation.” He later used a black BB gun that resembles a police officer’s pistol, which Torresen showed in court.
Ferguson also personalized the crime on several occasions by telling the bank managers that he spoke to that he had followed them home and knew where they lived, the federal prosecutor said.
One bank employee who worked at the Rollstone Bank & Trust in Fitchburg, Mass., which was robbed by Ferguson on May 17, told the court that she was so traumatized by his words that she could not continue working at the bank afterward.
“He told me he followed me home in my silver SUV” and mentioned the town where she lives, Rachel Gauthier said. “He brought my family into it. He took away the safety zone.”
She added later that, “until July when he was caught, I couldn’t sleep. I wouldn’t allow my child to go outside.”
When Ferguson was at Bangor Savings Bank he told the teller he had a two-way radio that was being monitored by a friend outside. If she did anything wrong “he would start shooting and his friend would come into the bank and also start shooting,” court documents stated.
After bank employees filled the bag with money, Ferguson took the bag and left on foot toward Old Town, got into a U-Haul he rented in Bangor and drove south.
Surveillance video footage was released and early the next morning an employee at the Days Inn on Odlin Road in Bangor called police to report that a man matching the bank robber’s description was staying at the motel. Ferguson quickly was questioned and then arrested.
Ferguson told investigators that except for the $10,925 that was recovered after the Orono robbery, he spent all of the money that he stole. He spent some of the money on bills, but also lived a “luxurious lifestyle,” which included visits to strip clubs where “he would spend $2,000 to $3,000 a night on strippers,” Woodcock said.
Six people sat behind Ferguson during the sentencing, and one woman broke out into tears when he was sentenced.
During his five years of supervised release, Ferguson cannot possess a firearm, ammunition or explosives and cannot be around others who have guns. He also must continue his mental health treatment for bipolar disorder, he cannot do illegal drugs or apply for credit, and if he’s not employed, he must do 20 hours of community service a week, Woodcock ordered.
In addition to the restitution to the individual banks he robbed, Ferguson also must pay a special assessment of $1,100.
Ferguson pleaded guilty on Oct. 1, to four counts of bank robbery, two counts of credit union robbery, four counts of armed bank robbery and one count of armed credit union robbery. Since he reached a plea agreement, he has waived his rights to appeal his guilty plea and the sentence Woodcock imposed on him Tuesday, the judge said. Ferguson can appeal the entire case if he wants by filing a written appeal in the next 14 days.
Ferguson, who was represented by his court-appointed attorney, Jon Haddow of Bangor, apologized to bank employees when he addressed the court, saying, “I never meant to hurt them.”
The Orono bank branch manager finished her time in front of the court on Tuesday by making a statement directly to Ferguson.
“Welcome to Maine, Mr. Ferguson,” Nevells said. “You picked on the wrong state.”