BATON ROUGE, La. – Patsy Mara doesn't doubt that her husband is the man the FBI calls the "Granddad Bandit," suspected in a string of bank robberies across the country. But the 61-year-old schoolteacher is struggling to reconcile the image of a holdup man who snatched money from two dozen banks with the gentle, loving husband she married just a year ago.
Michael Mara, 52, was arrested Wednesday after police and FBI agents acting on a tip surrounded their modest home in Baton Rouge. He surrendered peacefully after a nearly six-hour standoff. A judge said Friday that he would be extradited to Virginia, where the bank robbery complaint against him was filed.
"Did my husband who I was married to do that? Of course not. Did Michael Mara, the guy who walked out this door with police do it? Yes," Patsy Mara said in an interview with The Associated Press, sitting on her couch in the home she shared with the man she thought once worked as a paramedic and most recently for FEMA on disaster recovery.
Michael Mara wore his EMS uniform, with the crisp white shirt and badge of a paramedic, on the couple's wedding day in June 2009. Now Patsy isn't sure if he ever was an emergency worker, or if he helped on the Sept. 11 cleanup as he claimed.
She doesn't question that it's him in the surveillance photos the FBI says show him robbing banks around the country.
The Michael Mara she knew was smart and kindhearted, loved trips to New Orleans' French Quarter and liked bologna sandwiches and macaroni-and-cheese dinners.
She said she knows nothing about the crimes he's accused of, beyond what she's now seen in TV newscasts. She didn't see gobs of cash around the house, and she said she never knew of his list of criminal convictions in Virginia for grand larceny, forgery and breaking and entering, crimes dating back to 1981.
Michael Mara is suspected of robbing 25 banks in 13 states, dating to a December 2008 holdup of SunTrust Bank in downtown Richmond, Va., authorities said.
According to court documents, the FBI received a tip from someone who identified Michael Mara as the robber and gave authorities photographs to match to bank surveillance videos.
In the robberies, the suspect waited patiently in line and handed the teller a note demanding a specific amount of money. Sometimes, he made gestures indicating he had a weapon, although agents said there was no indication he ever used one. Authorities haven't said how much money was taken.
The crimes began only months after Patsy and Michael met in a shelter set up for evacuees of Hurricane Gustav. Patsy Mara, who had been married twice before, said Michael showed up in a paramedic's uniform as she was working at the shelter. Virginia records show he'd been released from prison four years earlier.
Shortly after they married, Patsy Mara said her husband claimed to get a job for FEMA, working on disaster recovery. He traveled constantly, up to four or five weeks at a time, but she said he described trips to places that made sense for work, sites of floods or other disasters. He wore the black shirt and khaki uniform of a FEMA employee, and when he returned, he brought photos from his travels, giving credibility to the stories.
But court documents say Michael Mara worked for a vehicle transportation company, giving him the ability to easily travel to other states.
"If he was an actor, he would have gotten an Academy Award for his performance," Patsy Mara said.
FBI agents said the bandit nickname was devised to help law enforcement and the public easily identify the suspect. To Patsy Mara's grandchildren, Michael Mara was called "Grandpa Mike."
Friday, he was led into a federal court in Baton Rouge, shackled and wearing black-and-white striped prison garb. He was advised of his rights and waived his initial hearings until he is moved to Virginia. If convicted of the Virginia bank robbery for which he was arrested, he faces 20 years in prison.
He left a Virginia prison in 2004, after serving jail time for a 1995 breaking and entering conviction, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. He'd also been convicted there of grand larceny in 1995 and of grand larceny, forgery and petty larceny in 1981.
Robert Lunsford, a retired detective, said he has no doubt Patsy Mara didn't know about her husband's alleged criminal activity, because Lunsford ran across the same thing when he arrested Mara on theft charges in Virginia in 1995.
Mara's wife at the time thought he was a mountain rescue worker for the American Red Cross who had served aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, Lunsford said. He had forged Navy commendations thanking him for his service that hung inside their Suffolk home, he said. But the ship wasn't commissioned until after the war was over.
In Michael Mara's van, Lunsford said he found a notebook that contained a half-dozen different backstories with tabs for each name so he could quickly refresh his memory.
"He said through the years he had created so many different identities and different lives that he had taken on that he didn't even know who he was," Lunsford said.
Federal officials refused to provide details of Michael Mara's background, where he was born or where he grew up. Patsy Mara knows the stories he told her, about an estranged daughter and a granddaughter who gave him a small brown teddy bear five years ago that he named Fuzzy and took on trips with him.
"I don't know what is true of anything he's told me," she said, describing him with tears in her eyes and sitting in a home filled with family photos that show Michael Mara with her children and grandchildren.
Now, she's only sure of a few things, that her husband treated her well, that her family loved him and that she had a happy life with him.
She also knows that during Wednesday's standoff he said he worried about her. Patsy Mara sat in a car only a few houses away from home, getting updates from officials as they negotiated with her husband to give himself up.
"When he was talking to people yesterday, his concern was for me. His concern was that I'm going to be angry. I'm not angry. I'm sad," she said. "I cannot be angry and throw him in the garbage."
Associated Press Writer Dena Potter contributed to this story from Richmond, Va.