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Cell-Phone Bank Bandit Pleads Guilty

Until last month, teen-ager Candice Rose Martinez of Chantilly was free to chat with friends and family on her cell phone, whenever she felt like it. But unlike most teens, she also used her phone to talk with her boyfriend/partner in crime while robbing four Wachovia banks.

SOON DUBBED the "cell-phone bandit," she was arrested in mid-November by local police and federal agents and found herself forced to trade in her phone for a cell in jail. And now, instead of listening to ringtones and making plans for the holidays, she'll be ringing in the next several Christmases and New Years behind bars.

That's because Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank robbery and brandishing a firearm during a bank robbery. And the latter offense, alone, carries a mandatory minimum term of seven years in prison.

Martinez, 19, of 4001 Spring Pond Place in the Shenandoah Crossing apartments, garnered national notoriety after bank surveillance photos caught her in the act — getting other people's cash from bank tellers while seeming to carry on a calm and routine phone conversation with her boyfriend.

That boyfriend, Dave Chatram Williams, 19, of the same address, later admitted to being in on the heists with her and to waiting outside each bank with the getaway car. And for awhile, they did get away — going on a spending spree with their ill-gotten bounty, which authorities say amounted to $48,620.

They didn't blow it all. During a Nov. 12 search of Martinez' apartment, Fairfax County police found $3,500 in cash — (30) $50-bills totaling $1,500 and (20) $100-bills totaling $2,000. And each stack of money was still bound by Wachovia bands.

But they did have fun with a good-sized chunk of their proceeds. Williams told authorities they purchased a 1997 Acura Integra, a Sony large-screen TV, a 42-inch Sylvania plasma flat-screen TV, two CD/DVD players and a four-piece bedroom set from IKEA.

And the search of Martinez' apartment also yielded a Louis Vuitton purse, a woman's black leather jacket, a Circuit City receipt for $3,685, a computer, a printer and a digital camera. Oh, and police also seized a T-Mobile cell-phone box.

The four Wachovia banks hit were in Springfield and Vienna in Fairfax County, in Manassas in Prince William County and in Ashburn in Loudoun County. The robberies occurred at these branches: Oct. 12, at 212 E. Maple Ave., Vienna; Oct. 21, at 8441 Sudley Road, Manassas; Oct. 22, at 7030 Old Keene Mill Road, Springfield; and Nov. 4, at 43780 Parkhurst Plaza, Ashburn.

Martinez hails from Santa Fe, N.M., and she and Williams met at Northern Virginia Community College, where both were students. Williams used to work at a Wachovia Bank but, as things turned out, his little bit of knowledge of the bank's inner workings turned out to be a dangerous thing.

On Dec. 1, in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank robbery and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. And he could receive as much as life in prison when he's sentenced on Feb. 24.

AS FOR Martinez, last Wednesday, Dec. 7, a federal grand jury in Alexandria handed down a six-count indictment against her. She was indicted on conspiracy to commit all four bank robberies, the firearm-brandishing charge, robbery of the Vienna, Manassas and Springfield branches and armed robbery of the Ashburn branch.

Then on Tuesday, Dec. 13, Martinez was arraigned on these charges in federal court and pleaded guilty to the two, particular charges, in exchange for the other four being dismissed. She did so pursuant to a plea agreement to that effect between her attorney, Michael S. Davis, and U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty plus Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael E. Rich and Patricia T. Giles.

She also agreed to pay a special assessment of $200 and, together with Williams, make restitution for the full amount of the bank's loss. In addition, she and Williams both agreed to forfeit all interests they have in the items they bought with their bank-robbery proceeds.

Besides the Acura Integra and the fancy TVs, they also purchased a Panasonic surround-sound speaker system, as well as some pretty pricey designer duds, including: Two North Face jackets, two North Face coats, four Louis Vuitton purses, two pair of Nike shoes, Guess jeans, Baby Phat tops, three pair of Bamboo boots and a pink Christian Dior scarf.

According to the Statement of Facts issued by the prosecution, "A few days before Oct. 12, Martinez and Williams agreed to rob the Wachovia Bank branch in Vienna. The two of them composed a demand note and typed it using his computer and printer. The note threatened [that] the teller or someone next to him or her [would get shot] if the teller failed to surrender the money. "

Then on Oct. 12, Martinez walked into the Vienna branch, carrying a box to which the demand note was fixed. She showed it to a teller who, afraid that she might be harmed, relinquished the money from her station. This robbery yielded $14,480.

A similar scenario occurred Oct. 21 at the Manassas branch, with Martinez and Williams driving away with $3,240. And on Oct. 22, at the Springfield branch, Martinez again robbed the bank and drove off with Williams plus $6,000.

HOWEVER, SHE stepped things up a notch during the Nov. 4 armed robbery of the Wachovia Bank in Ashburn's Parkhurst Plaza. There, she came inside the bank packing a .38-caliber revolver Williams had given her, showed it to the teller and made off with $24,700.

The Statement of Facts tells that, "Before the bank robberies described above, Martinez and Williams agreed on the roles each would play in committing the robberies ... The actions of each were done knowingly, intentionally, unlawfully and not as a result of accident, mistake or other innocent reason."

After accepting her guilty pleas on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee set Martinez' sentencing for March 3. The conspiracy charge carries a possible maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charge of brandishing a firearm during a robbery is punishable by as much as life in prison.