The Phoenix Reporter and Item (

Ex-Royersford resident admits 2 Phoenixville bank robberies

By Michael P. Rellahan,

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

WEST CHESTER — A 23-year-old man with a serious addiction to heroin told a Chester County Common Pleas Court judge on Tuesday that he wanted to make a change in his life when the time came for him to walk out of prison.

Instead of robbing banks to fund his addiction, Michael Brown said, as he pleaded guilty to before Judge Anne Marie Wheatcraft, that he would rather find a job that allowed him to speak to people who were in his shoes.

Brown, a high school dropout who had been addicted to heroin for three years, told the judge that he would appreciate the chance to tell others just starting on the road to drug addiction about how he made the same mistake, only to see his life ruined by having to feed his habit, court observers said.

Wheatcraft appeared impressed with Brown’s determination, and in a recommendation to the state Department of Corrections, suggested that he be allowed to serve his prison sentence at SCI Chester, which has an advanced drug rehabilitation program for inmates.

“Thoughtful, young kid,” wrote Wheatcraft, a former Chester County assistant district attorney who prosecuted dozens of defendants like Brown, if not more, in her years as a prosecutor, in comments to state prison officials. “No prior record at all. Very sad case of a kid who committed two bank robberies to support addiction.”

Brown, who lived in Royersford at the time of the robberies but was living in West Chester and working in Delaware County when he was arrested by Phoenixville police and FBI agents, pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery and a count of possession of a controlled substance.

He was sentenced as part of a plea agreement between Assistant District Attorney Max O’Keefe and Assistant Public Defender Susanna DeWese, representing Brown, to a state prison term of six-to-12 years. He has been awaiting trial in Chester Conty prison since his arrest in November.

According to a criminal complaint by Phoenixville Detective Sgt. Joseph Nemic, Brown was responsible for two robberies at the Phoenixville Federal Bank & Trust on Main Street in the borough that occurred less than two months apart. In one case, the suspect suggested that he had a gun but did not display it, although he threatened to shoot employees and customers. In the second incident, the robber carried a black and white revolver.

The first robbery occurred about 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 20, 2013. The robber, described as a man in his 20s, with dark hair and a short beard, wearing a dark grey hooded sweatshirt, knit cap, and sunglasses, entered the bank and approached a teller, demanding money. “Nobody move and I won’t shoot you,” he said. When a bank manager came out of an office, he pointed a finger at her and said, “Don’t come any closer or I will shoot you.”

The second occurred about noon on April 16. This time the robber wore a black jacket with a hood, blue jeans, a red baseball cap and large frame sunglasses. Again, he got money from a teller and fled on foot down Main Street.

Based on video footage of the robbery taken from surveillance cameras, Nemic was able to work up a composite drawing of the suspect and posted it around Phoenixville and sent it to media outlets. In May, a business owner in the borough contacted Nemic and identified the suspect as Brown, whom he said had worked for the business owner and whom the businessman had known for several years.

The businessman, Sebastian Santibanez, also told authorities that he had spoken with an applicant at his shop who said that he, too, recognized the suspect as Brown, whom he had known since high school. That man, identified in court documents as Chad Duffy, later told police that he had met with Brown in April and had driven him to Phoenixville.

Duffy said that Brown asked him to drop him at his mother’s house so that he could get some money, and asked Duffy’s girlfriend if he could borrow her sunglasses. Both said he was dressed lke the person described in the robbery. When Brown returned to the car, he seemed anxious, and counted out several hundred dollars in cash in the back seat of the car, the witnesses said.

In the criminal complaint, Nemic said that he checked records and that brown’s mother did not live near where Duffy dropped him off.

Based on the interviews with Duffy and Santibanez, Nemic obtained a warrant for Brown’s arrest. On Nov. 13, Nemic and FBI Special Agent James Fitz of the Newtown Square office arrested Brown while he was working at the Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Delaware County, according to the arrest affidavit.

In court documents, it appears as though Brown had attempted to end his addiction before his arrest, checking himself into the Harwood House drug rehabiliation center in Upper Darby in August. But he did not complete treatment, and told Nemic when he was arrested that he had snorted a half a bag of heroin just hours before the officers came to arrest him.

As part of his sentence, Brown was ordered to repay $3,339 to the bank for the cash he took in the robberies.