BANGOR — A 26-year-old Fairfield man described as a polite bandit who conducted a virtual one-man crime wave in 1994 was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court to 17 years and seven months in prison.
Brian Scott Witham pleaded guilty to various charges in September and November 1996, including three armed robberies in Maine.
Described by some victims as very polite during robberies at Pizza Hut, Friendly’s Restaurant and State Street Cinemas in Augusta, Witham was sentenced on five counts, including federal firearms violations, by U.S. District Judge Morton Brody in Bangor. A restaurant manager said Witham complimented her on a “job well done” after she gave him money.
Despite Witham’s polite bandit image, Brody said the nature of Witham’s crimes was “heinous.”
Particularly disturbing, Brody said, was the intimidation Witham and an accomplice directed at Friendly’s Restaurant employees on the November night they robbed the establishment.
Three restaurant employees were forced to lie down in the basement of the restaurant while the robbery was committed. One wrote in a statement read in court that he worried the gun Witham halfheartedly brandished would be used on him.
“I wondered if every step I took would be my last. I thought of my family and how I might never see them again,” the victim wrote.
“These people will be affected for the rest of their lives” by terrifying memories, Brody said.
Asking for a sentence at the higher end of the federal guideline range, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim McCarthy said Witham conducted a “one-man crime wave, posing a lot of danger to a lot of people.”
McCarthy told the judge that many justices in the nation would not hesitate to impose a 75-year sentence, a virtual lifetime in prison, for similar offenses before sentencing guidelines came into effect 10 years ago.
A clean-cut prisoner, Witham apologized for his actions and claimed drug addiction drove him to the crime spree.
After listening to Witham, Brody said he would give Witham a lighter sentence, “not because of the drugs, but because of your age.” It gave him no pleasure to sentence a young man to a lengthy stay in prison, Brody told Witham.
Nor did he relish removing Witham from his family in Kennebec County, the judge added. However, Brody agreed to the government’s request to classify Witham as a career criminal because of a lengthy record that stretches across four states.
He also agreed that the three burglary counts against the Fairfield man should be classified under the Hobbs Act dealing with interfering with interstate commerce by violence, in this case robbery. Both actions paved the way for additional years to be tacked onto Witham’s prison sentence.
Witham pleaded guilty to three counts of interference with commerce by violence, one count of using a firearm during a crime of violence, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Brody also ordered Witham to pay $4,155.79 restitution to the places he robbed. Witham faces three years of supervised release after he gets out of prison.
Witham is serving a sentence in Massachusetts and faces other criminal charges in New Hampshire and Vermont, according to U.S. Attorney Jay P. McCloskey.
The Maine robberies occurred in the following time line:
Oct. 8, 1994: Witham robbed Pizza Hut at 66 Western Ave., Augusta, after theatening the manager with harm unless he turned over money.
Oct. 16, 1994: Witham robbed State Street Cinemas, 280 State St., Augusta, after brandishing a gun and threatening the manager with “force, violence and fear of injury” if she didn’t give him money.
Nov. 21, 1994: Witham and accomplice Neil Armstrong Robert, 21, of Benton robbed Friendly’s Restaurant, 48 Western Ave., Augusta, at 11:45 p.m. Dressed in an expensive-looking leather jacket, a cap and sunglasses, Witham reportedly held a handgun at waist level and said, “This is a robbery. I want all of your money and no one will get hurt.” The manager and two employees took Witham to the basement to get money while Robert remained upstairs. A fourth employee already was in the basement, and Witham directed all of them to lie on the floor except for the manager. The manager opened two drawers in an office and Witham reportedly filled several bags with money. Then he directed the manager to lie down, only to tell her to get up and to let him and Robert out.
Robert pleaded guilty last November to one count of robbery in the Friendly’s holdup and will be sentenced after completion of a presentence report.
Also sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in an unrelated case was Michael Ray Hamlin, 36, of Lewiston.
Judge Brody sentenced Hamlin, who is classified as a career criminal, to 15 1/2 years in prison after he earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Hamlin is serving a five-year prison sentence for unlawful sexual contact, an offense that allegedly occurred in Kennebec County and involved a minor.
He also faces nine charges in Kennebec County Superior Court ranging from drug trafficking to tampering with a witness.