'Grandpa Gang' Convicted in Germany

Three men dubbed the "Grandpa Gang" (search) because of their advanced ages were convicted Friday of robbing 14 banks of more than $1.23 million, sometimes using guns dating back to World War II.

The oldest, Rudolf Richter, 74, was sentenced to nine years, while Wilfried Ackermann, 73, received a 10-year sentence. Both confessed to taking part in the robberies in Germany over a 16-year span when their trial opened last month.

The third defendant, Lothar Ackermann, 64, who is not related to Wilfried Ackermann, did not enter a plea. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

"It's unbelievable how easy it is to rob a bank once you've done it a couple of times," Wilfried Ackermann said during his trial, adding that fear of having no money and spending the rest of his years in a nursing home drove him to commit the crimes.

Judge Horst-Werner Herkenberg said the men "used all means to achieve their goals."

The three also were convicted of violating weapons laws, and they were accused of using handguns dating from the war, as well as automatic weapons and sometimes even fake hand grenades.

Wilfried Ackermann has testified that he and Richter met while in prison on separate bank robbery charges, and after their release began meeting with their 64-year-old acquaintance to discuss robbery plans.

Richter said he was motivated by the fact that he had already served time in prison for a bank robbery he did not commit.

"Many years were already gone from my life," he said. "When I got out of prison I said to myself, 'Now I'm going to even.'"

Wilfried Ackermann said the group would wait until shortly before closing time to enter the banks, because they would likely encounter fewer customers.

Most of the money had been recovered, Herkenberg said, but he added that the robbery victims — most of them young women — suffered for months from the psychological impact.

Prosecutors had sought sentences of 14 years and more for the three.

Rather than being "pitiful grandpas," they were "a gang of serious criminals," prosecutor Klaus Neulken said.

"The defendants wanted to spread fear and terror," he said.

They were accused of robbing their first bank in 1988, later striking in cities throughout northern and western Germany.

The men were arrested last year at in a parking lot in the town of Wimbern, where they allegedly were preparing another heist.