Lawyer: Inspired by newspaper account, “Straw Hat Bandit” robbed banks to pay bills

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The end of the month, federal prosecutors say, meant two things to Richard Boyle: Time to pay the rent and, in order to do so, time to rob another bank.

Like clockwork between 2012 and 2016, the 57-year-old Bucks County photographer allegedly donned one of his distinctive disguises – getups that earned him the nickname “The Straw Hat Bandit” – grabbed a gun, and stole money to cover his routine living expenses.

But as prosecutors in court filings Monday described the items on which Boyle spent his purportedly stolen cash, the list was striking only for its extraordinary ordinariness: More than $7,500 to buy his school-age daughter a 7-year-old used Nissan Sentra, $41,000 to cover debts to his dentist, and $5,000 to cover tuition at Temple University for his daughter.

Despite stealing nearly half a million dollars over four years, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Livermore wrote, Boyle hardly lived a luxury life.

Livermore’s accounting of Boyle’s expenses came as part of a government effort to keep him in custody until his trial on charges that he was the man behind 11 stickup jobs at banks across Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

The filing also shed new light on Boyle’s criminal past, including a 2008 conviction for eight earlier bank jobs, and the events that led to his arrest last week as one of the FBI’s most sought criminals in the region.

The bespectacled, hunch-shouldered Boyle did not fight the government efforts to keep him behind bars during a brief hearing in federal court, acknowledging that even if the judge were to grant him bail he likely would be arrested again for violating his parole.

But in an interview Monday, Boyle’s former lawyer, who represented him nearly a decade ago after his first crime spree, said he hardly was surprised to hear his onetime client put his allegedly stolen cash to less than extravagant use.

“This was the kind of guy you don’t forget,” said the lawyer, Craig Penglase. “It struck me before that he was just embarrassed that he couldn’t afford to support his family.”

As Penglase recalled it, Boyle began robbing banks in 2007 after reading local newspaper coverage one of the lawyer’s other clients – a man charged with robbing seven banks but who received a relatively light sentence as part of a plea deal that Penglase negotiated on his behalf.

“Mr. Boyle read the news accounts of the work that I did on [that] case and somewhere in his head decided that wouldn’t be a bad way to put a couple of bucks together if he ever needed to in a hurry,” he said.

So when Boyle lost a medical sales job in 2007 and faced potential eviction from his home, he put on a loud Hawaiian-print shirt and a big straw hat and put his outlandish plan into action. Over two years, he managed to steal $102,000 from eight banks without ever brandishing a weapon.

“I remember the tellers saying he was overly polite,” the lawyer recalled. “His demand notes said, ‘please,’ and ‘thank you.’ One of the tellers said that had it not been her bank’s policy to just turn the money over to would-be robbers, she might not have. She thought he might just have walked away.”

Once he was caught, Boyle turned to the lawyer whose earlier work inspired his turn to crime. And like Penglase’s earlier client, Boyle received a relatively light 3 1/2-to-10-year sentence as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. He was released in 2011.

“The first bank I robbed [in 2007] was out of panic of losing my house,” Boyle told the state Parole Board at the time. “But I believe the other robberies occurred because of greed and laziness.”

Federal prosecutors now say that within a year of his release from prison Boyle’s bills started to pile up again, prompting his return to crime. But although the reasons for his robberies may not have changed, they allege, his methods certainly did.

This time – starting with the May 2012 robbery of a Colonial American Bank branch in Horsham — Boyle developed a distinct signature that eventually led agents to his doorstep, investigators said.

Covering his face with a makeshift cloth mask and a distinctive hat, he allegedly used a gun to subdue bank customers, forcing them into a back room, in each of his 11 crimes. He purportedly held employees at gunpoint while demanding they open their cash drawers and bank vaults. And hoping to evade arrest, Boyle placed hoax 911 calls before each robbery to keep local police distracted in other parts of the city, prosecutors said.

It was through those phone calls, Livermore said in his court filings, that FBI agents traced the robberies back to Boyle.

This time, too, Boyle allegedly grew increasingly willing to spend his cash on luxuries. Although he started out as before, paying off credit card bills, rent payments, dental bills, and other mundane debts, over time he splurged on things like a Rolex watch and a two-month vacation for himself and his son to a private villa in the Florida Keys, prosecutors said.

But unlike his first foray as a successful bank robber, this time Boyle faces a significant prison sentence if convicted – a mandatory minimum of 232 years.

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