WILKES-BARRE — A former inmate at the Minsec community corrections center in Hazleton was sentenced Thursday for robbing three banks in the Greater Hazleton area nearly two years ago.
The robberies by Shawn Luther Kelley, 35, spurred public criticism by local officials of the corrections center in which inmates were linked to more than 30 other crimes since 2007.
State funding to Minsec ceased in June 2013 as the state Department of Corrections moved inmates to other community corrections centers.
A federal grand jury indicted Kelley in May 2012 for robbing three banks from April 16 to April 24, 2012.
U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo sentenced him to 8.3 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Kelley was ordered to pay $6,540 in restitution.
He was given credit for 21 months he has spent jailed at the Lackawanna County Prison since his arrest.
U.S. Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Gurganus Jr. sought a sentence of 10 years for Kelley.
Caputo said he imposed his sentence based on several letters from correctional officers commending Kelley’s positive attitude while jailed.
“They (correctional officers) day to day observe him,” Caputo said. “Otherwise, I would have sentenced him higher.”
Kelley’s attorney, William Ruzzo, said he has come to know Kelley like a son over the years, and blamed an addiction to heroin for the robberies.
“He would be a productive good citizen possible with a college degree or running a business of some kind, but the problem is the heroin,” Ruzzo said. “Robbing a bank is the wrong thing to do, and there are consequences.”
“I’d like to say sorry to the bank tellers and the bank and to my family for dragging their name through the muck,” Kelley said. “I’m going to take every advantage to fix whatever is wrong inside of me.”
Kelley blamed his heroin use on “emotions.”
Gurganus said Kelley concealed his face with a surgical mask and a bandage, and wore surgical gloves, when he robbed a branch of PNC Bank in Hazle Township on April 16, 2012.
Kelley robbed the Choice One Community Federal Credit Union in Hazleton on April 20.
Gurganus said FBI agents identified Kelley as a possible suspect on April 23, finding him hiding in a bathroom of a girlfriend’s residence in Hazleton. Kelley was not arrested due to lack of evidence at the time.
The next day, Gurganus said, Kelley robbed a branch of Citizens Bank in West Hazleton. State police at Hazleton arrested him after a foot chase following that heist.
Minsec opened in 2007 in the former Altamont Hotel in downtown Hazleton under a contract with the state Department of Corrections. The facility quickly gained notoriety by inmates released to Minsec being linked to more than 30 other crimes.