Three men and a woman are now in federal prisons for what a U.S. District judge last fall termed “a crazy scheme” to rob banks in the Golden Triangle.
Reports from the Bureau of Prisons show it’s taken custody of Hassan “Hice” Chandler, Zakiya O’Neal, Jose Brown and Vincent Farley.
A fifth defendant, Cierra Nations, pleaded guilty for her part in the scheme and was sentenced Aug. 25 to 40 months in prison.
Charges against them were heard by Judge Sharion Aycock in the U.S. District Courthouse in Aberdeen. They were accused of varying degrees of involvement in a 2008 conspiracy to rob banks in Columbus and West Point, including to kidnap bank employees and take them to the banks to help them rob them.
For their current status:
– Chandler arrived Dec. 18 at Federal Corrections Institution Herlong in California to serve 60 months.
– Farley arrived Dec. 17 at Lompoc Correctional Complex in California to serve 50 months and one day.
– Brown was delivered Nov. 24 on Marianna Federal Corrections Institute in Florida to serve 50 months and one day.
– O’Neal arrived Dec. 15 at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Fla., to serve 60 months.
Several months ago, Nations reported to a women’s facility outside Fort Worth, Texas.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons decides where people will serve their prison sentences, and placement depends upon the types of crimes committed, their seriousness and where beds are open for those categories.
Prosecutors claimed some of them drove from Alabama to Columbus and determined where one bank employee lived. Two days later, the others drove from Alabama to West Point, with a gun, but couldn’t find another bank employee’s house.
In a sworn affadavit dated July 3, 2008, FBI Agent James Burton Jr. said a concerned citizen told him on June 30, 2008, about a plot to kidnap banker Butch Dollar, kill his wife and take him to the bank to rob it.
Dollar reportedly told Burton a woman called his house days before and asked if she could bring him a financial package. Ultimately, law enforcement determined the woman, O’Neal, had met the alleged package-sender in jail, where she learned the woman knew Dollar.
Burton also said Nations told him of a plan to kidnap a West Point banker named Peter to help them rob a bank, but they couldn’t find his house. Someone else told him O’Neal talked about “her crew” and a new plan to get money from a home near Old Waverly. By now, O’Neal had been arrested, and when she allegedly directed the others from an area jail, they got lost.
After a four-day trial in May, the jury convicted O’Neal and Chandler only of the conspiracy count. She was acquitted on an extortion charge, while Chandler was acquitted on that charge and three others, including kidnapping, committing a violent crime with a gun and bank robbery by force.
They have appealed their convictions to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
In late 2008, Nations, Farley and Brown pleaded guilty to their involvement.
At Farley’s sentencing, Judge Sharion Aycock told him, “My concern is that you would read that this court did not take this offense seriously. I realize how dangerous and serious this was.”
She described their actions to kidnap a bank executive and rob the bank as “a crazy scheme,” saying “people could have been killed.”
Aycock said she chose to reduce Farley’s sentence because he got “a lot of credit because you testified at trial.” Brown received similar judgment.
“I am making these adjustments because I don’t think it is fair to sentence you to more than those who went to trial,” Aycock told Farley.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mims agreed Farley had cooperated with prosecutors and recommended a lesser sentence on his pleas to Count 3, attempted robbery, and Count 6, possession of a firearm.
The firearm charge complicated Aycock’s decision because the law mandates it be served after the other sentence.
In the end, she sentenced him and Brown to one day in prison on Count 3 and 50 months afterward on Count 6.
Farley and Brown are housed in facilities where they can participate in a 500-hour intensive drug treatment program.
All defendants will be on years of supervised release, once they serve their prison time.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal