- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

The young woman dubbed the “cell phone bandit” was sentenced yesterday to 12 years in prison for the armed robberies of four banks in Northern Virginia last year.

Candice Rose Martinez, 20, who tearfully apologized to the bank tellers she robbed, gained worldwide notoriety from a surveillance camera video showing her calmly chatting on her cell phone while a nervous teller complied with a typed note demanding cash.

“Every day I’ve seen her face in my mind,” said Mekeda Smith-El, a teller at one of the Wachovia bank branches Martinez robbed.

While Miss Smith-El did not testify during the sentencing hearing, she told reporters afterward that she recalls that the note handed to her demanded $75,000.

That Oct. 12 heist — the first of four — netted about $14,000 and was followed by robberies in Springfield, Manassas and Ashburn.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee sentenced Martinez to five years for conspiracy to commit bank robbery and seven years for using a firearm in a crime of violence.

The sentence was identical to one Judge Lee handed down a week earlier to Martinez’s boyfriend, Dave C. Williams, 19.

Williams admitted being on the other end of the cell phone, as well as driving the getaway car and using his computer to write the note.

The first robbery occurred at a Vienna bank where Williams once worked.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Rich, who got guilty pleas in both cases, called Williams and Martinez “equal partners” in the crimes.

Mr. Rich reminded the judge that the pair studied Williams’ Wachovia employees’ manual before the first robbery, and composed the note used in the robberies together.

The teller in the Oct. 20 robbery testified she has had to undergo counseling to continue working at the bank.

“Even if she had no intention of hurting me, I didn’t know that,” Jessica Dickerson, 20, said during a tearful courtroom statement.

“I’m sorry, very, very sorry,” a crying Martinez said after Judge Lee asked her to face Miss Dickerson.

Investigators have said Martinez and Williams netted a total of $48,620 that was used for everything from a plasma screen television to a 1997 Acura Integra. The couple also spent $2,000 on a Chihuahua puppy, which they named Capone.

Judge Lee has ordered them to make full restitution for the $43,850.46 not recovered.

Martinez’s mother testified about her daughter’s troubled childhood, which she said included physical, emotional and sexual abuse that led her to seek out the security of Boys and Girls Town in Nebraska, where she lived from age 12 to 17.

“She didn’t have a stable home,” testified Michelle Medina.

Outside court, Miss Medina called her daughter “a good girl, and she’s sorry for everything she did.”

“It happened in a matter of weeks, but it seemed like seconds,” Martinez told the court. “My whole life is ruined.”

But Miss Smith-El wasn’t sympathetic.

“I’ve been through things, I don’t decide to go and rob a bank,” she said. “I have a father who is incarcerated, but I work hard for my money.”

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