By Neal Putnam
A Ramona man who pleaded guilty to robbing two banks as the “Skateboard Bandit” was sentenced Monday to four years in federal prison.
Colter Stanley Johnson, 26, was allowed to remain free on a $100,000 property bond until Dec. 5 over the objection of Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lasater, who asked U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino to remand him into custody immediately.
Johnson’s attorney, James Pokorny, argued “he’s got the support of family,” adding, “he’s not going anywhere.”
Fifteen people including his parents and brother stood up in court after Pokorny asked them to show their support.
Johnson will remain living with his parents and may have to observe the same 6 p.m. curfew he abided by after he posted bond Sept. 17, 2010.
Pokorny supplied proof that Johnson has paid $11,466 in restitution to all three banks robbed in the series. He said Johnson has been out working hard to repay the banks back and the debt to them is “satisfied in full.”
Sammartino recommended that Johnson enroll in a 500-hour drug program that is available in some federal prisons, saying “it would be a great benefit to you.”
“I apologize to the courts, the prosecutor, the victims, and my friends and family,” said Johnson. “I did an immature thing, and I blame no one but myself. I’m not a bad person. I apologize, your honor.”
Pokorny asked for a prison sentence ranging from 37 to 46 months, saying “we think that is a fair punishment.” He said Johnson underwent psychiatric treatment “to answer the question why, why would he do this?”
“He felt he was at the end of his rope, drug use, dealing with the death of his fiancée,” said his attorney. “Take in consideration the drug use.”
Pokorny said he used some of the money to pay rent in Ocean Beach where he moved to with a friend from Ramona.
He was arrested Sept. 2, 2010, by San Diego Police after someone saw him leave on his skateboard and get into a white sport utility vehicle which was registered to his mother.
He had just robbed the Chase Bank at 12380 Poway Road of $4,151 and was arrested near his Ocean Beach apartment. Johnson pleaded guilty May 3 to robbing not only the Poway bank but also the Comerica Bank at 3361 Rosecrans St., which lost $3,995, on July 12, 2010. He was charged with stealing $3,320 from a Wells Fargo bank in San Diego on July 23, 2010, but that charge was dismissed after he paid for the bank’s losses.
Lasater said a sentence of 37 months would mean “a year per bank (hold-up), and that was not a good message to deter bank robberies. He urged a 57-month sentence.
Lasater said the plastic gun used by Johnson “was modified to make it look real.” He said several victim tellers still remain frightened and they believed the gun was real.
Lasater held the replica up to the judge, saying it is “virtually identical.” He said Johnson didn’t just pay rent with the stolen money. “He spent money on personal items and drugs,” adding that he bought marijuana and Ectasy pills.
“He was getting an adrenaline rush, a high out of it,” said Lasater, adding that, when he robbed the third bank, he was out of debt by then.
The judge said financial worries that many people face today don’t result in most people robbing a bank.
“It’s a big deal when you rob a bank. I also have to deter criminal conduct,” said Sammartino. “You did some very bad acts. You made some modifications to the gun to make it look real.”
“I don’t ever want to see you back here again. You can’t take the easy way out,” said Sammartino, as she read the sentence.
Johnson, a 2003 graduate of Ramona High School, had no criminal record. He grew up in Ramona and worked for many businesses here. Many people sent favorable letters to the judge.