Federal prosecutors recently announced the indictment of 27 Houston residents in connection with a rash of ATM robberies that targeted ATM technicians in Texas and several other states.
The defendants committed at least 47 strong-arm robberies of ATM technicians between August 2017 and January 2019, stealing over $2.7 million. Although the defendants acted as if they had firearms during the robberies, they did not display firearms in the commission of the robberies—an act that would have significantly increased potential criminal penalties.
As of this writing, 23 of the 27 defendants have been arrested, and four others are currently being sought. Most of the defendants are associated with the Houston street gang Market Street Money Gang, or MSMG.
Defendants involved in the conspiracy surveilled ATMs over the course of several days to learn the servicing patterns before following the service technicians. At some point two to four individuals would rush the technician and use physical force such as punching to take the money. They most frequently used the threat of a firearm during the robbery.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 25 years in federal prison. Although this case is extreme, robbery is a serious criminal charge. Penalties, even one-time offenses, can result in lengthy prison terms.
Understand the Charge.
It is critically important to understand how the law defines robbery when you are charged (or even being investigated) for this offense. The following is a brief guide covering robbery, focusing on strong-arm robbery in particular.
When Robbery Becomes a Federal Offense
Although federal charges can be brought for different kinds of robbery, these cases are not prosecuted at the federal level unless they involve crossing state lines to commit the offense or the robbery involves a federal entity. Because banks are considered federal financial institutions, federal charges are more common for this specific form of robbery.
Federal courts are notorious for harsh sentencing, and federal prosecution of violent crimes is predicted to increase. Even if robbery is prosecuted at the state level, however, you can expect severe consequences.
How Strong-Arm Robbery Works in Particular
Robbery involves the taking of anything of value from someone through force, threat of force, or by the use of fear from. The severity of the offense depends on the presence of aggravating factors, such as the use of a weapon or infliction of physical injury.
Strong-arm robbery involves theft committed with the threat of force or intimidation. The offense does not require the actual use of a weapon, although perpetrators often threaten to use a weapon in commission of these kinds of robberies.
Importantly, a firearm is not required for the offense to be considered strong-arm robbery. Other weapons, such as a knife, baseball bat, or explosives can be involved. Additionally, the weapon can be fake, or the defendant may only threaten that he or she is possession of a weapon – the important factor is whether the victim reasonably believes that the weapon is real, and that they will be harmed for failure to comply with the robber’s demands.
For example, in the case above, the defendants were not in possession of firearms while committing the robberies. However, they acted as if they had firearms, and also used other forms of physical aggression such as punching. Either of these factors would be sufficient for the offense to be considered strong-arm robbery.
If you are facing robbery charges at the federal or state level, or think that you may be charged, it’s important to be proactive and fight back as early on as possible to protect your rights and future.