Saturday, October 27, 2001

Isle man alters plea in robberies

Staff and wire reports

OAKLAND, Calif. >> A San Francisco International Airport air traffic controller and former Maui resident who had been struggling with personal and financial problems pleaded guilty yesterday to a bank robbery spree.

Rick Lee Davis, 43, the president of the air traffic controllers' union local, changed his original plea of innocent. He pleaded guilty yesterday to six counts of bank robbery.

Davis, nicknamed the Robust Robber because of his stocky build, was arrested Aug. 3 after a spree of nine Bay Area bank robberies over a 10-month period.

Police said he made off with a total of $40,000 before his capture. As part of the plea agreement, Davis will pay $39,895 in restitution.

Davis is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 15, and faces a sentence of 120 years in prison. Three of the nine original bank robbery charges were to be dismissed, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco.

In an interview with the Star-Bulletin in August, Davis said he robbed the banks to "keep up appearances" for his family. Although he was suffering financially, Davis said 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. "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 had been working as an air traffic controller at San Francisco Airport since 1998, earning about $88,000 a year. In 1996, Davis was seriously hurt when his car hit a cow in Hawaii, where he had been living with his wife and two sons. Davis later divorced and filed for bankruptcy.

He lived in Makawao and worked as a Maui air traffic controller until 1999.

Davis' father, Don Davis, traveled from his Southern California home to attend the hearing. He said he supports his son and laments the wrong turns he took to dig himself out of debt.

"I have no idea how this all came about other than greed. Love of money," the elder Davis said. He seemed befuddled as to how his son, with a master's degree and a solid career, turned to a brief life of crime.

"He had his head on right and had a future and was headed in the right direction -- I thought," Davis said.

Rick Lee Davis reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors yesterday, admitting to six bank heists in various Bay Area cities. The first five of those robberies were timed almost exactly one month apart, occurring on Oct. 17, Nov. 16 and Dec. 15 of 2000 followed by robberies on Jan. 16 and Feb. 16 this year.

The sixth robbery Davis pleaded guilty to occurred on June 15, when he held up a Wells Fargo Bank in Fremont and got away with $8,103.

Davis will be allowed to remain in a halfway house in San Francisco until his sentencing next year.

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