Attorney Sam’s Take: Massachusetts Female Robbery Rate Is Up – Are Drugs The Reason?

As we end our Thanksgiving celebration for 2010, the Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog brings you yet another reason to be grateful. We, as a society, have made another step forward in the cause of equality. This blog being what it is, of course, that stride involves the criminal justice system. More specifically, it is in the genre of Massachusetts robberies.

We break this “good” news with the story of Cheryl Fitzgerald (hereinafter, the “Defendant”), a young lady who, on September 22nd, is alleged to have entered the Hometown Bank in Webster wearing a New England Patriots cap and giving the teller a note stating “Give me the money. No dye packs.”

The Defendant was arrested on November 7th in Daytona Beach, Florida, and then extradited back to the Commonwealth. Finally, she was arraigned in Dudley District Court and ordered held on $5,000 bail. She stands charged with unarmed robbery and larceny over $250. Since the robbery was of a bank, she could also end up facing charges in federal court.

The investigating detective, Webster police detective and 17-year police veteran James T. Hoover, recognized this robbery as a breakthrough of sorts. He explained, “I have had 15 bank robberies in my career and that is my first woman…that (bank robbery) was our fourth one this year.”

But, a man of the times, Detective Hoover said that the fact that the suspect was a woman was not really much of a shock.

“The trend seems to be going a lot more women involved with these bank robberies throughout Worcester County and throughout the country,” he explained.

According to the FBI, women accounted for 6.1 percent of bank robbers in the first six months of 2010 in the United States, which is more than double the 2.8 percent in the same period last year. Since 2002 (when women accounted for 4.9 percent of all bank robbers in the United States), only one year was lower, with the remaining years ranging from 5.4 percent to 8 percent.

Of course, not all robberies occur in banks. However, the FBI does not keep things like convenience store robbery statistics. Local police, however, are quick to point out that drugs often play a role in the crimes.

While women’s roles in bank robberies have been more or less unsung, the Defendant is certainly not the most recent female alleged robber in the non-bank sort of felonies. For example, on October 1st, Bridgette E. Shehata, 29, of Webster, allegedly brandished a knife and tried to rob a White Hen Pantry in Webster in her stocking feet.

Detective Hoover explains, “I can’t say that was the first convenience store robbery (in which the perpetrator was a woman)”.

Meanwhile, Worcester Police Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst tells us that, while Webster has only had one female bank robber this year, Worcester has had three bank robberies committed by women, one of which remains under investigation.

Well, one would expect the more thriving metropolis of Worcester to be more advanced in the latest trends, wouldn’t one?

Sgt. Hazelhurst also noted that he has noticed an increase of women involved in robberies.

And, of course, he explains that the reasons are probably the same for both sexes, he said, and that’s drugs.

“A lot of times there’s drug addiction involvement in these robberies. They’re (females are) equally addictive as these male counterparts,” Sgt. Hazelhurst said. “Some of it is blind faith with their boyfriends and husbands. They want to help them out for whatever reason and not realizing at the time how stupid that is.”

Worcester is lucky enough to have had a more recent female bank robbery than Dudley. On November 6th, Lorie J. Perreault, 31, of Grafton, allegedly walked into the Sovereign Bank in downtown Worcester and handed the teller a note that stated she had a gun, and demanded money.

While apparently it was only the woman who had entered the bank, law enforcement decided that her gentleman friend had to be in on the robbery too since both were found together in a hotel room enjoying the fruits of the allegedly ill-gotten gains.

He is probably considered the brains of the operation anyway.

“We ended up catching them in a hotel room right in the middle of them using drugs shortly after they robbed a bank,” Sgt. Hazelhurst said. “Very rarely are you going to see someone who is trying to float a mortgage and put food on the table to feed their kids on these robberies. A lot of it is fueled by they want to put the drugs in their bodies.”

Both were charged with the drugs and the bank robbery.

Randall Grometstein, chairman of the Behavioral Sciences Department at Fitchburg State University, said nationwide the crime rate has been falling for a decade. However, crimes by women tend to stick out, she said.

“Women are 50 percent of the population and we commit so many fewer crimes,” Ms. Grometstein said. “It’s a little bit different in some nonviolent categories. For example, women get arrested for sex offenses, like prostitution, stuff like that. They get arrested for minor financial fraud, things that certainly are related to survival. And the violent crime rate for women is very, very low and it hasn’t changed in 20 years.”

In spite of movies such as “Bonnie and Clyde,” Ms. Grometstein said, most female criminals operate alone or with a boyfriend or husband accomplice, while men usually don’t want women as partners in crime.

Fitchburg Police Chief Robert A. DeMoura said there has been an upswing in women resorting to robberies and this is not merely a case of people trying to make ends meet in harsh financial times.

“Clearly, I don’t think they are doing it to supplement income to take college courses,” Chief DeMoura said. “It’s very clear that a lot of the women that have gotten involved with violent crime, especially robberies, is because they need money to supplement their habits.”

Whether the suspect is male or female, of course, the police must react to the potentially explosive situation the same. On October 13th, Leslie M. Moore, 40, of Gardner, and Jannine M. O’Connor, 40, of Billerica, allegedly held up Ray’s Variety Store in Fitchburg. They led police on a high-speed chase, which ended with Ms. Moore being shot and killed by police after refusing to stop her car and using it as a battering ram. Ms. O’Connor was charged with unarmed robbery. Court documents say $177 was stolen from the store.

Although he wasn’t speaking specifically about the October 13 incident, Chief DeMoura said drugs are the driving force behind most violent crimes and drug addiction doesn’t discriminate between gender.

Man or Woman, high or otherwise, if you are suspected of being involved in a robbery, to say nothing of the drug trade, it can be a deadly situation. This is particularly true now as arrests in “drug gangs” are occurring about 20 – 30 at a time and alleged drug-related killings are becoming an almost daily occurrence.

I watched this happen in Brooklyn. We are not all that far away.

As seen above, you need not be present at the bank robbery to be a suspect. As we have covered many times, you need not have the drugs on you to be a drug suspect.

Guilty, innocent or in between…the advice is vital and the same as always. Keep your head together. Cooperate with law enforcement when they come a-calling. No, this does not mean confess your entire life…politely give them you name and let them process you. Then, get an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you.

Should you wish that attorney to be me, please feel free to call me to arrange a free initial consultation at 617-492-3000.

In the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding “Black Friday” and weekend!

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