A Reading-area armed robber who hit banks in York, Lebanon and Berks counties has been sentenced to more than four decades in federal prison.
Derek Pelker must also pay $318,000 in restitution, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Harrisburg.
He pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement in September 2017, but withdrew that plea and took his case to trial, where he represented himself and was convicted on May 18, 2018, according to federal court records.
The jury found him guilty of four counts of armed bank robbery and two counts each of brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Pelker, 29, who has addresses in Reading and Wernersville, appeared in Harrisburg’s federal court on Wednesday, July 10, where U.S. District Court Judge Yvette Kane sentenced him to 533 months in prison, the release states.
That amounts to about 44½ years.
Co-defendants Andrew Ishman, 32, of Wrightsville, was sentenced to four years in federal prison, while Ryan “Otis” Miller, 26, of the Pittsburgh area was sentenced to eight years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The trio robbed the former Susquehanna Bank, now BB&T Bank, at 1 S. Main St. in East Prospect the morning of April 24, 2015, according to Pelker’s federal indictment.
Ishman acted as lookout while Miller stayed in their vehicle as the getaway driver, the indictment states.
No deal: Had Pelker not withdrawn his guilty plea, he would have been sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay about $32,000 in restitution, according to court records.
Pelker, wearing a mask and a hooded sweatshirt, walked into the East Prospect bank, brandished a 9 mm Smith & Wesson handgun, ordered a teller to “empty the vault” and handed her a pillowcase, according to his indictment.
He warned her not to give him any bait money or transmitters, police said. Bait money refers to bills whose serial numbers have been recorded and can later be tracked through purchases.
Pelker pointed the gun at the five bank employees there, as well as at a woman who was the only customer in the bank at the time, according to court documents.
Because he’s a convicted felon, state law forbids Pelker from owning or even handling a firearm, according to police.
Pelker then ordered a second bank teller to empty the cash from her teller drawer into the pillowcase, which she did, according to the indictment.
He ordered everyone inside the bank to turn away from him and remain in that position for at least two minutes, then left the bank. He and Ishman jumped back into the Chevrolet Cruze where Miller was waiting and the trio took off, officials said.
Nearly $20K taken: They stole about $19,750 from the East Prospect bank, officials said.
State police filed bank robbery charges against Pelker and Ishman in York County Court, but those cases were closed when the men were indicted in federal court, according to court records.
Troopers focused on the men after a number of witnesses reported Ishman was involved, according to court documents.
Ishman’s former girlfriend gave state police a photo he texted to her the day after the robbery, which showed a large amount of cash, writing, “look what I made tonight my beautiful baby girl,” court documents state.
Another witness told troopers that Ishman spoke with people about removing the serial number from a gun, then told them about the bank robbery “and how the firearm and pillowcase were disposed of in the Susquehanna River,” documents state.
Ishman also confessed his involvement in the robbery to a woman he was trying to “get with,” according to state police, who said two other people told troopers that the day after the robbery, Ishman went to them looking for drugs and had several thousand dollars on him.
During questioning by state police, Ishman confessed, implicated Pelker and Miller, and said Pelker gave him $4,000 for acting as lookout and kept most of the cash for himself, documents state.
Other guilty pleas: Pelker’s co-defendants have pleaded guilty and been sentenced. They include:
Keith Pelker of Wernersville, who pleaded guilty for the Lebanon robbery and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Officials said he is Derek Pelker’s brother.
Shannon Gazouris of Shillington, who pleaded guilty for the Lebanon robbery and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Ryan Martin of Reading, who pleaded guilty to the two bank robberies in Valley View and was sentenced to 8⅓ years in prison.
Kelsie Bair and Lindsey Scholl, both of Lebanon, who pleaded guilty to being accessories after the fact for disposing of the weapon used in the Lebanon robbery off a pier in Ocean City, New Jersey. The gun was later recovered by an FBI scuba team, according to officials. Bair and Scholl were each sentenced to a year in prison.
William Papoutsis of Reading, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Papoutsis, who is the Pelkers’ uncle, was sentenced to six months in prison, according to officials.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.