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Would-be bank robber in wheelchair sentenced to federal prison

Courtroom and gavel. (Joe Gratz/Flickr)

A Pittsburgh man who tried to rob a South Side bank while in a wheelchair was sentenced Thursday to 46 months in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti imposed that term on Emanuel Luna, 56, who had pleaded guilty in March to attempted bank robbery.

Luna tried to rob the First National Bank on East Carson Street on Aug. 13, 2019.

He entered the bank in a wheelchair that afternoon, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, glasses and a black hat, and handed a teller a handwritten note that said he had a bomb in a backpack. The note said he would “press the button and kill us all for no less than $50,000 dollars please try me.”

The teller activated an alarm and called the manager. When she started to cry, Luna wheeled himself away before receiving any money and left the bank.

Pittsburgh police, along with agents and officers from an FBI task force, responded and found Luna’s wheelchair at the corner of East Carson and 12th Street. A latent fingerprint matched Luna.

Agents also reviewed surveillance video from the bank and businesses in the area. In those, Luna is seen leaving the bank, abandoning his wheelchair and getting on a bus. Further surveillance video from the Port Authority showed him on the bus.

The next day, prosecutors said, an O’Hara Township police officer was watching TV news about the robbery and recognized Luna. The day before, he’d seen Luna crossing a street in his wheelchair and was concerned for his safety. Agents showed him a photo of Luna and he confirmed it was the same man. The bank teller also picked him out from a photo array.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Silinski said court officers had trouble determining much of Luna’s background or personal information. She said Luna doesn’t appear to have any family ties or other information that could be verified. The U.S. pretrial services office talked to a stepson, who said that while Luna has claimed to have served in the military, he did not. He has a criminal history for property crimes, but they appear to have begun in his 50s. Nearly all criminals display the reverse; they age out of crime.

Ms. Silinski said that the government has a concern that Luna’s mental health problems indicate he may continue to commit crimes.

“The government hopes that Mr. Luna will take advantage of every opportunity he will have while serving his sentence to receive treatment for his mental health and vocational skills or training so that he can be a productive member of society upon his release from custody,” she wrote.

Mr. Luna said through his lawyer that what he did was a “really stupid crime” and it was “inconceivable” that he would get away with it, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

The judge gave Luna a sentence within the guideline range, saying the attempted robbery was serious because Luna threatened that he had a bomb and no one knew if he really had one or not.

Judge Conti also said it’s important to send a message that it’s “not worth it to rob a bank.”

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(c) 2021 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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