Originally posted at 11:48 a.m. March 14, 2014. Edited to add more details.
The man dubbed the "Snowboarder Bandit," who was already sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for bank heists in Riverside County, was sentenced today to an additional two years for carrying out 10 bank robberies in Orange County, including one in Corona del Mar and one in Laguna Niguel.
Michael Brandon Franks, 31, of Riverside, was dubbed the Snowboarder Bandit because of his youthful appearance and the knit hat and ski clothes he wore to disguise himself during his robbery spree.
Franks pleaded guilty in November to 10 felony counts of second-degree robbery and two felony counts of attempted second-degree robbery. He admitted to 10 holdups at nine banks in Orange County, taking in about $30,000 from Dec. 20, 2011, through March 21, 2012, according to prosecutors. The Schools First Federal Credit Union branch in Anaheim was robbed twice.
Franks was arrested at his home in Riverside May 4, 2012, following multiple tips generated by publicity about the holdups.
Since Franks was sentenced in February to seven years and eight months in prison for three Riverside County heists, Orange County Superior Court Judge David Hoffer crafted Franks' sentence so much of it will run concurrently with the time he is already serving. But the judge added two more years to the sentence.
Franks' wife, Amber, begged the judge for mercy, blaming herself for her husband's crime spree. She said she and her husband were unemployed and struggling financially when he started robbing banks.
"I know during that (time) I hadn't been working," Amber Franks said through tears. "He was the bread winner and I pushed him harder (to find work). I was really hard on him. I'm not saying that was an excuse to go out robbing banks, but it was so hard. I just don't know what happened. It all spiraled out of control."
The couple has two children, ages 7 and 9, and Hoffer said he took into account how old they would be when Franks was done serving his time behind bars. Franks must serve 85 percent of the time, and faces one more bank robbery case in Ventura County.
"He's a good man, a good husband, a good father," Amber Franks told the judge. "I don't want my kids to think anything about him but that."
Amber Franks said she met the defendant when they were 12 and have been married for about 10 years.
A few of Franks' friends also spoke on his behalf today. They told the judge Franks was devastated by his father's death about 10 years ago from brain cancer, and that he moved his family from Orange County to Riverside County to be closer to his sister when her husband died in a dirt bike accident.
"He had a lot of hard times growing up," his friend of 20 years, Cesar Meyer, told the judge. "He was there for his mother and family when his uncle committed suicide."
Franks aspired to be a California Highway Patrol officer and had passed the exam and was about to start working for the agency when he put his life on hold to look after his sister following the dirt bike crash, Meyer said.
Franks' attorney, Brent Romney, characterized the crime spree as an "aberrant period" in his life. When Franks was arrested he confessed to all of the bank robberies and admitted ones authorities did not know about yet, Romney said.
Hoffer said he took into account the defendant's otherwise crime-free life, but said the sheer volume of heists merited a lengthy prison sentence.
"The problem here is the number of banks robbed," Hoffer said, adding Franks was accused of up to 18 actual and attempted holdups.
"In a sense, the defendant became a professional bank robber," Hoffer said.
The judge agreed with Romney's argument that Franks went out of his way to avoid violence in the robberies, but the crimes exhibited "a high degree of callousness." Some of the bank employees were so traumatized with fear they quit their jobs, Hoffer said.
"Mr. Franks is a good man, but he took away trust and replaced it with fear" at the banks he robbed, Hoffer said..
--City News Service