PORTLAND, Maine – A Greyhound bus driver the FBI nicknamed the "burly bandit" stole more than $100,000 in a string of bank robberies in the Northeast and spent most of it on strip clubs, restaurants, sports memorabilia and other items before he was arrested in July, prosecutors say.
Robert Ferguson, 47, of Lowell, Mass., pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Bangor to 11 bank robberies in a crime spree that began in April in Buffalo, N.Y., and ended with his arrest in Maine. Several of the robberies took place in communities on his bus route, prosecutors said.
Richard DesLauriers, the head of the FBI's Boston office, U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II and other law enforcement officials credited assistance from the public in nabbing Ferguson.
"It's heartening to see that the people of Maine are willing to step forward and contact police when they think they have evidence of a crime," Delahanty told reporters. "It made the difference in this case."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Torresen, who's handling the criminal case in Bangor, said law enforcement officials believe Ferguson stole about $107,000 from the 11 banks and credit unions in upstate New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Nearly $11,000 was seized from his bus, along with some cash Ferguson had in his wallet, Torresen said. He told authorities he'd already spent the rest, she said.
The stolen cash fueled some purchases for his car, including stereo equipment, as well as some high-priced outings like the Blue Man Group in Boston, a Charlie Daniels Band concert, and a Mother's Day dinner at an exclusive steakhouse, according to federal prosecutors.
Prosecutors say he was a big tipper at strip clubs, dropping $2,000 to $3,000 a night. He also bought sports memorabilia and other items, they said.
Law enforcement officials believed they were dealing with a long-haul trucker or someone in another occupation that required travel through the region. In July, the FBI dubbed the man responsible for the bank robberies the burly bandit because of his stocky build.
There could be additional charges in Connecticut. Federal and state charges are pending there and are being handled separately from the other 11 cases, Delahanty said.
For the robberies, Ferguson told law enforcement officials that he used a BB-gun designed to look like a Beretta handgun, as well as a pair of toy guns.
In Maine, police said Ferguson rented a U-Haul truck that he used for an unlikely getaway vehicle before robbing the Bangor Savings Bank in Orono.
He was arrested the next day thanks to several tips starting with a witness who reported seeing a U-Haul truck near the bank. Two workers at a Days Inn where Ferguson stayed recognized him on the bank's surveillance video, and a U-Haul worker reported seeing Ferguson's truck near the Bangor Savings Bank, officials said.
His lawyer, Jon Haddow, didn't immediately return a call from The Associated Press after the hearing in Bangor. Ferguson faces sentences of up to 20 to 25 years in prison for each of the 11 counts. U.S. District Judge John Woodcock accepted the pleas but did not set a sentencing date.