A 29-year-old Los Angeles woman was sentenced Monday to six years behind bars for her role in a series of violent takeover-style stick-ups that left bank tellers reeling from what a federal judge called “significant” emotional trauma.
Michelle Edwards was also ordered by U.S. District Judge S. James Otero to pay about $86,000 in restitution and serve three years under supervised release after she gets out of federal prison.
“The court believes the defendant poses a risk to the community going forward,” the judge said from the bench.
Edwards was recruited to join the bank ring by a Los Angeles career criminal who was serving time in a previous case when he contacted her, Otero said.
Robert Michael St. John convinced Edwards to conduct six stick-ups throughout the San Fernando Valley during the summer of 2017, supplying the weapon, providing step-by-step instructions prior to the heists, and giving his co-defendant real-time instructions through a headset and cell phone during the robberies while he waited in the getaway car, according to federal prosecutors.
During the robberies, a disguised Edwards brandished a gun and, in at least one instance, told a teller she would “blow your head off” if the bank employee didn’t comply, the judge said.
The “significant short- and long-term effects” of the crimes on the victims was “obvious” when they testified during St. John’s trial last year, the judge said. Testimony was halted after a few days when St. John agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit armed bank robbery, and he was sentenced by Otero in May to five years behind bars.
The 49-year-old St. John “is an extremely dangerous person,” the judge said Monday before imposing sentence on Edwards.
Otero noted that during St. John’s trial, it became clear that the defendant was “using the trial to learn more about phone tower locations” so he could “continue in this type of activity going forward.”
St. John attended a highly regarded Catholic high school and studied at American University in Washington, D.C. But “rather than use his education and talents to contribute to society, defendant has taken advantage of vulnerable women for the past 22 years,” according to a sentencing memorandum filed in Los Angeles federal court.
“In 1997, defendant sustained multiple felony convictions for pimping and other sexual crimes involving violence, young women and drugs. Despite a sentence of 11 years’ imprisonment for his crimes, defendant failed to follow the rules of the state court and violated the terms of his parole multiple times,” the document says. “A substantial prison sentence and GPS monitoring did not deter defendant from committing additional crimes with vulnerable women.”
When St. John was discharged from state prison, he recruited prostitutes to rob banks for him 13 times, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. For those Los Angeles-area robberies, he was sentenced to eight years in federal prison, yet was undeterred from “engaging in abhorrent criminal conduct that preyed upon women” and recruited Edwards to rob banks while he was still behind bars, the document says.
“Eager to return to his life of crime, defendant planned to rob a bank on his first day out of prison,” prosecutors wrote. “A few weeks later, (St. John) conducted an armed bank robbery himself, pointing a gun at a victim’s head and threatening to blow his … head off.”
Edwards and third co-defendant Savion Cheatham were arrested on Sept. 11, 2017, while St. John was on his way to rob an eighth bank, according to the sentencing memo, which says St. John’s sister is employed as an attorney for the Federal Communications Commission.
Edwards pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and multiple armed bank robbery counts.
Cheatham — whom Otero said was recruited by Edwards — is scheduled to be sentenced next month on the conspiracy count, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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