An Oradell man admitted in federal court Wednesday that he robbed banks in Edgewater and Mahwah – one of them with help from his girlfriend -- as well as an out-of-area bank, gas station and liquor store.
Joel Robbins, a 47-year-old Tenafly native, was caught after he pointed a fake gun at two tellers at a TD Bank on Route 17 in Mahwah on Dec. 3 and demanded money, warning them not to “make me have to kill you,” authorities said.
Soel, who wore a bandana over his face, then left with an undisclosed amount of cash – dropping bills along the way – and hopped into a waiting Toyota Corolla driven by Wanda Soel, a 52-year-old teacher’s assistant from Hasbrouck Heights, they said.
Seeing what was happening, a teller at the drive-up window told a customer to call police, authorities said at the time.
The driver then began following the Toyota up Route 17 toward the New York State Thruway and remained on the phone with the Mahwah 911 dispatcher -- who advised turning on the car's flashers for responding officers, township Police Chief James N. Batelli said said.
Officer Sean Hayes spotted the cars and went after the getaway vehicle, backed up by other officers, he said.
"The vehicle exited Route 17 and came to a stop near the entrance of the Sheraton Crossroads," Batelli said. "Officers exited their vehicle and the female driver began to get out of driver's seat.
"At that time officers were unsure if she was involved in the incident or possibly the vehicle had been hijacked and she was a victim," he said.
"As she attempted to exit the vehicle her arm became entangled in the seatbelt and the vehicle accelerated, with [her] being thrown to the ground," the chief said.
Grabbed in the hotel parking lot, Soel told the officers that Robbins, who tried to speed off, was her boyfriend, authorities said.
She was taken in to custody and is awaiting trial.
The car with Robbins now behind the wheel hit a curb pulling out of the parking lot, blew a tire and went down a small embankment.
Mahwah Sgt. O'Hara and Officers Jonathan Weber, John Rodriguez and William Hunt converged on the car and arrested Robbins without incident, the chief said.
They recovered cash that was sticking out of his pants, as well as bills strewn inside the Corolla, he said.
Police also found the fake gun, along with sunglasses, a bandana, a dark knit cap and latex gloves that authorities said Robbins used during the robbery.
Robbins on Wednesday pleaded guilty is U.S. District Court in Newark to the Mahwah holdup, as well as the Oct. 25 robbery of a Chase Bank branch in Edgewater, another Chase branch in Whippany (June 6), a Santander Bank in Parsippany (July 20), a liquor store in Hopatcong (Oct. 15) and a gas station in Pine Brook on Nov. 26.
U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI and singled out Mahwah police for praise, while thanking police from Edgewater, Hanover Township, Parsippany, Hopatcong and Montville.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason S. Gould of Carpenito’s Criminal Division is handling the case.
Robbins, a former property manager who studied psychology at the University of Hartford, is facing serious federal prison time.
He has a lengthy rap sheet, records show, including:
• arrested in Fort Lee in 2010 on cocaine and heroin distribution charges;
• arrested in Oradell in 2009 on aggravated assault charges;
• probation violations in 2008;
• arrested in Tenafly in 2007 on assault charges;
• arrested in Ridgefield Park in 2006 on charges of aggravated assault with a weapon, weapons possession and drug offenses -- which also brought a probation violation;
• arrested in Park Ridge on drug and theft charges in 2006.
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