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Crime & Courts

He Googled ‘how to rob banks.’ Then they robbed one.

Surveillance images from the Wells Fargo bank on East Fifth Avenue show an armed robbery on Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo provided by FBI)

A federal judge sentenced a 23-year-old man to more than 10 years in federal prison on Monday for his role in a bold string of armed robberies in Anchorage over one week in August 2016.

During the spree,  in which he and a childhood friend held up liquor stores, a gas station and finally a downtown bank, Kaleem Tikori Fredericks searched "how to rob banks" and "how to sell diamonds for cash" on his phone, according to an indictment in the case.

Fredericks and co-defendant Calel Calvis Alexis Crofford, 25, both pleaded guilty to federal robbery and firearms charges. In January, a judge sentenced Crofford to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors said the case was unusual because of the illegal sawed-off shotgun involved and the pace of the robberies: six in a week.

'A new and exciting life'

Fredericks and his childhood friend Calel Crofford grew up together on the island of St. Thomas, in the U.S.Virgin Islands, according to federal court filings.

Fredericks moved to Anchorage in April 2015 to start a "new and exciting life" in pursuit of his goal of becoming a chef, his mother wrote in a letter to the judge.

"He was so proud and excited when he said he was hired as a junior chef at the world famous Marriott in Anchorage, Alaska," Oretha Fredericks wrote.

At the time of the robberies, Fredericks had worked at Anchorage restaurants including the downtown Marriott, Crush, Yes Bistro and the Nordstrom Marketplace Cafe, according to court filings.

Crofford had been living with family in Dallas and San Diego before joining Fredericks in Alaska in July 2016, less than a month before the robberies.

Robbery spree

On Aug. 11, 2016, according to federal court filings, the two men began a robbery spree by holding up the Captain Sparrow Liquor Store on Benson Boulevard with a sawed-off shotgun. They took $741.

Over the next few days, they also hit two Brown Jug liquor stores and a Tesoro gas station, getting away with less than $500 in cash at each robbery.

On the morning of Aug. 18 the men broke into a mall jewelry store to take gold chains.

Then, at 10:15 a.m., they stormed into a Wells Fargo bank east of downtown and pointed a sawed-off shotgun at a teller.

According to court filings, Fredericks said he walked behind the counter and told the employees "that he didn't want to hurt anyone and that the money belonged to the bank" and not the tellers.

Surveillance images from the Wells Fargo bank on East Fifth Avenue show an armed robbery on Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo provided by FBI)

They took $25,956 in cash, according to a criminal complaint in the case.

They then drove to Girdwood, where they threw away the shotgun, backpack and some of the clothes they were wearing, according to federal prosecutors. They used some of the money to buy Air Jordan shoes and other clothes. A woman who had just met the men and was staying in a room they'd rented at the Chelsea Inn in Spenard said they had been "spending money like it was nothing."

Meanwhile, police had gotten two tips that the men in photos of the bank robbery were Fredericks and Crofford.

An ex-girlfriend of one of the men called Anchorage Police Department to say she recognized the Air Jordans worn by one of the robbers in a photo distributed to media after the bank robbery. She'd bought them for him.

By the night of Aug. 18, the men were at the Anchorage airport with tickets to Miami they'd paid for in cash.

Police approached the men at the Anchorage airport as they waited to board a flight out of the state. Crofford's backpack was stuffed with $20 bills, according to a criminal complaint in the case.

Sentenced

Both Fredericks and Crofford pleaded guilty to federal charges including armed bank robbery, brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

In dozens of letters sent to U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess, friends and family of Fredericks and Crofford described two young men from stable homes in the tight-knit community of St. Thomas who went astray in Alaska.

Both had substance abuse problems, according to sentencing memos in their cases. Fredericks was addicted to codeine cough syrup.

Fredericks was sentenced Monday, the day before Anchorage had its fifth bank robbery of the year when a man robbed the Russian Jack branch of Wells Fargo with a handgun. It was the second time this month the branch has been targeted.

All five 2018 Anchorage bank robberies remain unsolved, according to the FBI.

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