One of two women who dressed like a nun during a bank robbery crime spree in New Jersey and Pennsylvania is going to federal prison for three years.
Melisa Aquino Arias, 24, of Passaic, was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Newark, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
She pleaded guilty in June to three federal crimes, bank robbery, attempted bank robbery, attempted conspiracy to steal from a bank.
Her partner in crime, Swahilys Pedraza-Rodriguez, 20, of New Haven, Connecticut, pleaded guilty to the same crimes in April, and will be sentenced Thursday.
For several months in late 2017, authorities say and court papers show, the two women donned elaborate clothing disguises in four crimes, only one in which they actually escaped with cash.
They first wore nuns’ habits at a Citizens Bank in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 28, 2017.
Federal authorities say Arias was the lookout as Pedraza-Rodriguez took out what appeared to be a gun and demanded money from a teller. But Arias signaled her partner that they should leave, and they did, without the cash.
On Sept. 20, 2017, they tried to pry open an ATM machine at a Keystone Bank in Scotrun, Pennsylvania. Arias drove – they both wore hijabs – and Pedraza-Rodriguez wielded the screwdriver, but she could not get into the machine in the drive-through lane.
On Sept. 27, 2017, they robbed a Spencer Savings Bank branch in Garfield of $2,900. They asked a bank employee about opening an account, and then Arias, wearing a blue hijab, pulled out what appeared to be a black handgun.
Pedraza-Rodriguez guarded the bank’s manager during the holdup.
On Oct. 15, 2017, the women hit the NVE Bank in Teaneck. But by then, investigators had a lot of information on their routine, and saturated the media and police with information about them.
In Teaneck, Arias wore an orange hijab and Pedraza-Rodriguez a black head covering. They again approached an employee about opening an account, but the employee was on to them, and the robbers knew it.
They fled the bank without cash and employees called police and provided a good description, leading to two Leonia police officers arresting them at gunpoint on Route 80 West.