05/12/2009

Former NYPD officer jailed for Penn. bank heist

By MaryClaire Dale
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — A former New York transit officer who pulled a gun on three bank tellers, one of them nine months pregnant, during a Reading bank heist was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.

Christian Torres, 22, still faces charges in New York for two bank heists there.

Torres, of New York City, told the judge he regrets letting down his fiancee and his family, defense lawyer Angelo MacDonald said.

In his youth, Torres had won a scholarship to Rye Country Day School and attended the John Jay College of Criminal Justice before leaving to enter the police academy, the lawyer said.

"It is a shame," MacDonald said. "He's a bright kid, and he seems like a nice kid."

U.S. District Judge Thomas Golden sentenced Torres at the bottom of the sentencing range. Torres has provided authorities information in the New York case, but his lawyers plan to wait to see the evidence before deciding if he will plead to those charges.

He also has met with Sovereign Bank officials since his arrest to discuss security measures, lead defense lawyer Paul Missan said.

Torres admitted he pulled the April 2008 "takeover" heist of the Sovereign Bank branch in Reading, which occurred as the bank was opening for the morning. Wearing a hat and wig, he approached a bank employee in the parking lot, followed her inside and forced employees into a vault at gunpoint before making off with $113,000.

Police had been notified early on, and Torres was arrested - and the money recovered - a short time later.

The Pennsylvania crime followed a pair of 2007 robberies at a Sovereign branch in New York, in which he is charged with teaming up with an ex-girlfriend who worked there. Former teller Christina Dasrath admitted she shared bank security measures with Torres, helped stage the robberies and took a cut of the more than $100,000 in proceeds.

Dasrath is serving a 30-month federal term.

"I think the fact that they got away with it empowered them, it sort of led to the next one, and then the next one," MacDonald said Monday.

Torres has been in prison since his arrest after the Reading robbery. He used his service revolver in that holdup, the defense said. His sentence includes a mandatory seven-year sentence on the firearm charge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph A. LaBar said.

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