Saturday, August 11, 2001

Confessed bank
robber was hiding
financial difficulties

Former Maui resident Rick
Lee Davis has admitted to
robbing 9 banks in California

By Rod Antone

A former Maui air traffic controller who confessed to robbing nine banks in the San Francisco area said he did so to "keep up appearances" for his family.

Former Makawao resident Rick Lee Davis, 43, said that though he was suffering financially, he wanted to show his sons that he was OK when they came to visit him from Hawaii.

"I lost a house, had cars repossessed, had my lights and water and electricity turned off," said Davis by phone from a San Francisco halfway house. "I just never wanted my kids to know that I was suffering. I never wanted them to say, 'Oh, we can't do that because Dad can't afford it.'

"I am a man who made a personal mistake which has caused me personal pain, and was just trying to do my best for my kids."

Davis, his ex-wife and two sons used to live on North Makaleha Place on Maui, where next-door neighbors described him as a nice guy and a family man who did not say much.

Davis confessed to robbing the Bank of America in the Sun Valley Mall in Concord of $3,199 on Aug. 3, and at least eight other robberies in Fremont, Newark and Union City, saying he needed money to support his family, according to Concord police Detective Mike Finney.

"He was having a lot of financial difficulties and couldn't make ends meet," Finney said. "He's sorry he did it, but he's also very sorry he got caught."

Airport spokesman Mike McCarron said Davis has been working as an air traffic controller at San Francisco International since 1999. Davis said he was working on Maui until 1999. Before that, an FAA spokesman said, Davis was an air traffic controller in Kahului since 1988 and at one point also filled in as lead controller, a temporary position that lasted two years.

Davis said he wanted people in Hawaii to know that his arrest in no way should reflect badly on his former co-workers on Maui.

"The people on Maui are responsible and safe, and I am not your typical employee," he said. "This was a personal problem, not a professional one."

Davis also wants to clear up reports that his job as a San Francisco air traffic controller yielded a yearly salary of more than $100,000.

"It was more like $88,000," he said. "Maybe people can't understand why I couldn't make ends meet and take care of my kids where they were here on that salary, but ... I don't know how to explain it.

"I put so much weight on the material things in my life, but now I know that it doesn't matter to my family."

Davis appeared yesterday in U.S. District Court in Oakland.

"He's blown it," his attorney, Randy Sue Pollock, said outside the courtroom.

Davis was told to return to court Aug. 21 after posting $150,000 bond. He was to report to a halfway house.

Pollock said Davis is depressed and remorseful.

"He's lost his job. He's lost his career," she said. "He'll never work for the federal government again. This is not a happy time in his life."

Before his arrest, investigators believed the robberies were committed by an individual they dubbed the "Robust Robber" because of his stocky build. Davis is heavyset and stands 5 feet 7 inches tall.

Davis was arrested Aug. 3 after off-duty Concord police officer David Espinosa saw him rob a teller at the Bank of America on Willow Pass Road in Concord, court records show.

Espinosa, who was in the bank on personal business, became suspicious because Davis was fidgeting in line and wearing a long-sleeved shirt, hat and sunglasses, according to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Charles Esposito Jr.

Espinosa watched Davis approach the teller with a bag in his hand and hand her a computer-generated note that read, "Please be very quiet. Empty both drawers. Place all money on counter. I don't want to hurt anyone," the affidavit said.

The officer saw the teller look up suddenly "with a shocked expression," the affidavit said.

Espinosa followed Davis out to a parking lot, saw him remove a shopping bag that was covering the license plate of his 2000 Toyota Echo and then ordered him at gunpoint to lie down on the ground. Davis did not resist arrest and was not armed, Detective Finney said.

During his incarceration, Davis has been receiving vacation pay, McCarron said. Union officials were planning to meet Friday afternoon to determine what action to take, he said.

"Everyone I talked to who knows him said he was a nice guy and good to work with," McCarron said. "Everyone's pretty stunned and amazed that this has happened."

Davis admitted the robberies during an interrogation, telling detectives that he had been having financial problems because of a 1999 bankruptcy and child-support payments to his ex-wife and children, who still live in Hawaii.

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