Man pleads guilty to role in robbery of Pasadena bank

Innocent man mistakenly shot by FBI during a stop

September 28, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

The man FBI agents were searching for in the hours before the mistaken traffic stop and shooting of an unarmed Pasadena man pleaded guilty yesterday to federal bank robbery charges that could send him to prison for more than 12 years.

Michael J. Blottenberger Jr., 32, of Baltimore admitted acting as the getaway driver in the robbery Feb. 20 of an Allfirst Bank branch that netted $26,324. A federal prosecutor said Blottenberger has told authorities that the money went to buy drugs and rent motel rooms for parties as federal agents launched an intensive manhunt in the days after the holdup.

The search had near-fatal consequences for Joseph C. Schultz, who was shot in the face with an M-4 rifle after FBI agents stopped a car he was riding in March 1, believing that Schultz was Blottenberger. Schultz, 20, who had no connection to the crime or to the suspect, survived the shooting.

Blottenberger said little in court yesterday and made no mention of the grim chain of events set off by the search for him.

He calmly acknowledged his decision to plead guilty and his past treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. When the hearing ended, he burst into tears.

Defense attorney Robert B. Green declined to say whether the incident involving Schultz factored into Blottenberger's decision to plead guilty.

Green suggested that those events might be addressed at sentencing Dec. 13.

The case is a highly sensitive one for the government. An Anne Arundel County grand jury declined in July to indict the FBI shooter, Special Agent Christopher Braga, on criminal charges, but a county police report on the incident described the FBI's search as flawed from the start.

A separate shooting review was conducted by the FBI and turned over to the Justice Department's civil rights division for review. Those findings have not been made public.

In an unusual move yesterday, U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg sealed Blottenberger's plea agreement -- a document typically made public in federal court records. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Romano refused to say why the records were sealed.

Ryan P. Grimes also is charged in the bank robbery. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in April on two counts of bank robbery and has pleaded not guilty.

Accounts of the robbery offered by Romano and in court records describe a brazen midmorning holdup at the Allfirst branch on Fort Smallwood Road in Pasadena, with a masked robber brandishing a silver-and-black handgun and ordering the tellers to the floor.

The gunman left the bank with the money and climbed into a waiting green Ford pickup truck that Blottenberger has admitted driving. The pair later abandoned the truck and finished their getaway in a red Ford Probe. A few days after the robbery, they paid an auto-body shop $1,700 in cash to repaint the Probe a bright metallic green.

Blottenberger later told authorities that the weapon used in the holdup was an air pistol purchased at a Wal-Mart the night before the robbery.

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