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Disguised Garfield, Teaneck Bank Robber Gets Three Years In Federal Prison

Bank surveillance photos from Garfield (color) and Tannersville, PA (black and white).
Bank surveillance photos from Garfield (color) and Tannersville, PA (black and white). Photo Credit: COURTESY: FBI

A Passaic woman who went on a two-month bank robbery spree with another woman that stretched from Teaneck to the Poconos last year -- and included them wearing hijabs and nuns' habits as disguises -- was sentenced Wednesday to 37 months in federal prison.

There's no parole in the federal prison system, meaning that 24-year-old Melissa Aquino Arias will have to serve just about all of the sentence.

Arias told a judge in U.S. District Court in Newark in June that she and accomplice Swahilys Pedraza-Rodriguez, 20, of New Haven, CT dressed as nuns in a failed attempt to rob a bank in Tannersville, PA late last August.

"While inside, Arias acted as a lookout as Pedraza-Rodriguez took out what appeared to be gun and demanded money from a bank teller," U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said. "Arias signaled to Pedraza-Rodriguez that they should leave the bank and the women fled empty-handed."

Then, on Sept. 20, she said, the pair agreed to steal money from a drive-through ATM machine at a Keystone Bank in Scotrun, PA. 

Both were wearing hijabs, Arias said, when she drove to the ATM machine, where she said she again acted as a lookout while Pedraza-Rodriguez attempted to pry open the machine with a screwdriver. It didn't work and they took off, she said.

A week later, Pedraza-Rodriguez and Arias entered a Spencer Savings Bank in Garfield, New Jersey, and asked a bank teller for information about opening an account. 

Arias, who was wearing a blue hijab, "took out what appeared to be a black handgun and demanded money, while Pedraza-Rodriguez stood guard by the bank manager," Carpenito said. "After a bank teller handed them some cash, the defendants left the bank and employees immediately alerted the police."

The pair fled with what sources told Daily Voice was between $2,000 and $3,000.

They tried the same stunt again on Oct. 15 at an NVE Bank on Palisade Avenue in Teaneck.

Arias wore an orange hijab and Pedraza-Rodriguez a black head covering while approaching a manager and, again, asking about opening an account.

The manager recognized them from the Garfield job and went to alert police, as the pair fled.

An alert was issued, and moments later Leonia Police Officer Eduardo Millan and Raymond Forsdahl pulled the pair's car over on westbound Route 80.

SEE: Female Garfield Bank Robbery 'Nuns' Held After Leonia Grab

Pedraza-Rodriguez took a guilty plea earlier this year to the same charges as Arias: bank robbery, attempted bank robbery and conspiracy. She was expected to testify against Arias if she went to trial -- but now has been scheduled for sentencing this Thursday.

Carpenito credited special agents with the FBI, along with police from Garfield, Teaneck and Leonia, as well as the Pocono (PA) Township Police Department, with the investigation leading to the pleas.

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