150 years for Band-Aid Bandit

A judge gives him the maximum. His accomplice gets a slightly shorter term.

Published June 30, 2007

TAMPA - The six bank employees lined up at the front of the courtroom, ready to share the stories of their terrifying encounters with the Band-Aid Bandit and urge a judge to put him away for life.

Some had quit their jobs after their banks were robbed. Those who remained say they hold their breath every time a customer walks through the door. Many have nightmares about the guns the bandit and his accomplice brandished.

"I just hope they get what they deserve because they changed our lives, " said Lee Thomas, a teller at Capital City Bank in Spring Hill. "I'm just one. I'll never forget it."

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday listened to their pleas. Then he sentenced Rafael Rondon, 47, whom police dubbed the Band-Aid Bandit, to 1491/2 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence.

Emeregildo Roman, 54, Rondon's accomplice and former brother-in-law, was sentenced to 126 years and seven months. He received a shorter sentence than Rondon because he faced one fewer gun charge.

Friday's sentencing hearing brought to an end the seven-year saga of two of Central Florida's most notorious bank robbers. Rondon and Roman were charged with robbing six banks between 2000 and their arrest in 2006. But police believe the two men are responsible for as many as 39 heists between Sarasota and Spring Hill.

Rondon was called the Band-Aid Bandit because he often covered a distinctive mole with a bandage during the robberies.

In addition to the prison time, Merryday also ordered the defendants to pay $676, 873 in restitution to the banks they robbed, although he noted the fee was "in no danger of being paid, " given the pair's depleted financial status.

Roman's five adult daughters also testified in front of Merryday on Friday, begging for forgiveness for their father.

Jameyra Roman said her father always put the welfare of her and her sisters first.

"That's all he ever cared about, " she said, sobbing. "He came from nothing, nothing!"

As she was led away by a court security officer, she called out, "I love you, Daddy."

Merryday told the women he was sorry for their pain and said listening to their stories was "excruciating." But he said their love for their father made Roman's actions even more inexplicable.

"I grieve for your family, " Merryday told Roman. "I do not grieve for you."

Roman and Rondon eluded police for six years until they were arrested at their homes outside Orlando in July 2006. During the raid on Rondon's Clermont residence, law enforcement officers found a cooler stuffed with false wigs and mustaches, a ski mask, a revolver, makeup and more than $80, 000 in cash, most of it still wrapped in bank straps.

They were charged with multiple counts of armed bank robbery, illegal use of a firearm and conspiracy.

During their April trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Murphy Davis traced Rondon's evolution from a solo robber who quietly asked tellers to empty their drawers to a violent thug who, along with Roman, took over banks while waving his gun and barking orders.

"The violence was escalating, " Murphy Davis said during Friday's hearing. "It wasn't good enough that he took the money. He started jabbing people with his gun."

During one heist, Rondon pressed the barrel of his gun to a teller's head while counting to 10 and telling her to open a cash-dispensing machine. During another, he threatened to shoot a customer's dog.

Rondon's final robbery was his most violent.

During the July 13 robbery of the Fifth Third bank in Pinellas Park, Rondon forced tellers to open the vault at gunpoint. Then he bound their hands and left them in the bathroom.

The robbery proved to be the thieves' undoing after a nearby business owner spotted their getaway car on video surveillance.

Both Rondon and Roman declined to make a statement in court.

Joseph Atanasio, the former branch manager of the Mercantile Bank in Tampa, which was robbed by the bandit and his accomplice in October 2005, said he was offended by the lack of contrition from Rondon and Roman.

"They looked like marble pieces, " Atanasio said after the sentencing. "They had no expression. They just stood there."

Atanasio said he hopes the sentence will give him and the other bank employees a sense of closure.

"Now we can move on, " he said. "Unfortunately, in the type of business that we're in, this comes with the job. But I'm so glad that it's finally over."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.