By John Terhune
BU News Service
A 49-year-old man was sentenced to seven years in prison Tuesday after he pleaded guilty in March to robbing five Boston-area banks in Sept. 2018.
At his virtual sentencing hearing, Charles Lamont Wheeler expressed his desire to leave behind a life of crime.
“I just want an opportunity to do something productive for once,” said Wheeler, who claimed addiction and an inaccuracy in his criminal record has long haunted him.
Court records detailed the dramatic series of events that led to Wheeler’s capture on Sept. 14, 2018, after he and Dong Lee, 50, robbed five banks in the span of a week. According to court records, Lee, who also pleaded guilty to five counts of bank robbery, is set to receive his sentence on Feb. 16, 2021.
Minutes after the pair robbed Abington Bank in Avon and Crescent Credit Union in Brockton, they were involved in a hit and run while fleeing in a stolen Toyota Camry. After their car was spotted in Foxborough, Wheeler and Lee led police on a high-speed chase along Route 1.
Police apprehended Lee after Wheeler lost control and crashed near Exit 5 in Attleboro but later escaped on foot through the woods. He stole a Honda Civic from a nearby gas station and led his pursuers on another high-speed chase before he was finally boxed-in and arrested just before reaching the Rhode Island border.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Shine emphasized that Wheeler’s determination to evade law enforcement put the community at risk.
“He endangered the lives and safety of a number of people,” Shine said. “This only stopped because of the good work of the police.”
Shine also said that the government’s sentencing recommendation of seven years took into account Wheeler’s lengthy criminal record, which includes 17 convictions, according to court documents.
In its sentencing memorandum, the defense argued that Wheeler’s addictions to alcohol, crack, and heroin drove him to crime and that the slapdash nature of the robberies suggested they were a drug addict’s “self-destructive plea for help.”
“It just showed the addiction,” said Mark Shea, Wheeler’s attorney. “It just showed the actions of a desperate person.”
Judge Richard G. Stearns expressed hope that the sentence would give Wheeler an opportunity to seek treatment.
“You have a lot going for you except for drugs and alcohol,” Stearns said. “This is your chance to turn your life around.”