Two accomplices sentenced in $10,000 heist

WAILUKU – The last two defendants in a $10,000 Pukalani bank heist – the getaway dirt-bike driver and the girlfriend who bought lingerie and enjoyed a stay at a west side resort with the stolen money – were sentenced Thursday morning in 2nd Circuit Court.

In a courtroom packed with family and friends of Michael Santino Sobel, 28, and Christina Sawyer, 20, Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Sobel to 18 months in jail for second-degree robbery but gave Sawyer a chance to keep her second-degree theft conviction off her record.

Their accomplice Richard “Ricky” Vance, who went into the bank and brandished what appeared to be a firearm, was sentenced to a 10-year prison term last week.

Sobel of Pukalani, who came up first for sentencing, was facing a possible 10-year prison term. Instead, the judge levied an 18-month jail term and five years of probation. Cahill also ordered Sobel to pay $4,810 in restitution.

“Although he did conspire in the robbery, he did not go (inside the bank) and threaten everyone,” defense attorney Cary Virtue said in arguing for probation only.

After thanking the state for reducing Sobel’s initial charge of first-degree robbery to second-degree, Virtue argued that Sobel did not pre-plan the crime with Vance or Sawyer, and that it was a “thoughtless and impulsive” decision.

He also pointed out to the judge about a dozen friends and family members who came to support Sobel in the courtroom.

“Why are these people here?” Virtue said. “They’re here because they know him to be a better person. The family could’ve bailed him out but he said, ‘No, what I did was wrong and I’m going to take responsibility for it.’ ”

Since his arrest, Sobel has spent 140 days, or about about 4 months, in custody.

“It is because he recognizes, in his head, that what he did was wrong,” Virtue said.

Virtue asked the judge to “take a risk and release him today.”

“This boy is not going to be out at the beach surfing,” he told the judge. “He’s going home with dad, and he’s going to work with dad.”

Deputy Prosecutor Kim Whitworth argued instead for a 10-year prison term, but nothing less than 18 months, due to the defendant’s substance abuse issues.

While acknowledging that Sobel did not enter the bank and threaten people, Whitworth said that Sobel showed signs of planning the robbery when he met earlier with Vance and Sawyer at the Pukalani Shell and Car Wash.

“When he was arrested, he initially denied his involvement and kept on saying he has nothing to do with Sawyer and Vance,” Whitworth said. “He claimed he was just in the wrong crowd.”

Whitworth also said Sobel was a “known oxycodone addict” and contributed to the event that traumatized 15 to 20 people, who “have to relive this experience” for the rest of their lives.

The robbery occurred shortly after 3 p.m. Feb. 19 when Sobel brought Vance to the bank and waited outside for him on his yellow dirt bike.

“He was driving a very visible dirt bike, which contributed to their demise,” Whitworth said.

In rendering his sentence, Cahill explained that he had read a letter of apology that Sobel provided to the court.

“When I read your letter . . . and I see ‘I know I made a mistake,’ – this is not a mistake,” Cahill said. “A mistake is taking a wrong turn at an intersection. When you’re involved in a bank robbery, that isn’t a mistake.”

Cahill criticized Sobel for not admitting to his crimes, even after Vance and Sawyer had confessed to police about his involvement.

He also was disappointed that Sobel did not “take the opportunity to leave” after dropping Vance off at the bank.

Cahill, however, did not sentence Sobel to 10 years in prison but ordered him to serve 18 months of jail time, with credit for time served.

“Good luck to you, Mr. Sobel,” Cahill said. “I don’t think I’m going to see you back here again.”

Then it was Sawyer’s turn to face the judge, who followed a plea agreement and sentenced her to four years’ probation and gave her a chance to keep the conviction off her record.

“I’m ready to move forward,” she said to the judge. “I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

Whitworth agreed to the plea agreement and said that the “state felt she immediately cooperated” with the investigation of the robbery and “didn’t deny or minimize” her involvement.

“She was very candid to police, and the state feels it is a fair agreement,” she said.

Sawyer, who Whitworth said acted as a “second getaway car,” was not involved in the bank heist but did purchase lingerie from Macy’s in the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center in Kahului, deposited money from the robbery into her American Savings Bank account and drove Vance to the west side hotel where they were arrested.

During a preliminary hearing shortly after the robbery, Sawyer also was questioned about her drug abuse and admitted to the court that she was high on oxycontin during the crime.

“Obviously, she got caught up in a very serious drug addiction,” said her attorney, William Sloper. “Despite that, she has made a remarkable life change.”

Sloper told the court that Sawyer has completed residential drug treatment on Oahu and regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings since her arrest.

“I have never seen someone complete a residential drug treatment prior to being sentenced in my entire career,” he said.

Sloper also said that Sawyer is enrolled in college classes and is seeking a degree in substance abuse counseling.

“Seeing on a daily basis the destruction drugs have will help her with her own problem,” he said.

After hearing Sloper and Sawyer, Cahill read a letter written in April by her drug rehabilitation center.

“It states that ‘at this time Sawyer is sober due to fears of legal ramifications,’ ” he said. “I find that to be very persuasive and find it fair to everyone. You should be given a chance to keep this off your record . . . but deviating from this path can have serious consequences.

“Recovery is a lifelong thing, and you need to realize that.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at