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A former San Diego bank robber, recently out of prison, robbed again. It's not uncommon

San Diego Union-Tribune - 5/1/2023

Employees at a Chula Vista credit union had just opened the branch one morning last September when a man walked in wearing a face mask, glasses, a durag and a construction vest over dark clothing. He slipped a demand note to a teller and made off with $438.

Standing next to the victim who handed over the money was a longtime employee with a unique understanding of what her colleague had just endured — she, too, had been robbed nearly 12 years earlier at the same branch, also by a bandit using a demand note.

It wasn't until after the suspect's arrest that the tellers learned the most stunning similarity between their experiences: They'd been robbed by the same man, Akil Saeed Daniels.

In the time between, Daniels, 41, spent more than 11 years in prison for a string of bank heists in 2010 and 2011. Within three months of being released, he was back to his old ways.

People convicted of federal robbery charges, including bank robbery, are more likely than other formerly incarcerated people to re-offend, according to a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. It's not exactly clear why their recidivism rates are higher than normal, even compared to people convicted of more violent federal offenses. But the Sentencing Commission's study found that more than 63 percent of people convicted of a federal robbery offense in 2010 were re-arrested sometime after their release from prison, often on new robbery charges.

A 30-state study by the Department of Justice in 2014 found 77 percent of people who served state prison sentences for robbery were re-arrested within five years of being released.

Daniels last year seemed to follow the script of another serial bank robber. That man, like Daniels, had been part of a robbery spree in 2010 and 2011. Like Daniels, he'd been convicted and sent to federal prison for more than a decade. And like Daniels, shortly upon his release from prison he allegedly robbed two banks, including one he'd also targeted more than a decade prior.

That man, authorities allege, was Asim Shakir Daniels, Akil Daniels' younger brother and former accomplice.

The first spree

The Daniels brothers grew up in San Diego in a "stable working class home" with parents who tried, unsuccessfully, to keep them out of trouble, Akil's attorney Benjamin Davis wrote in a sentencing document.

An early exposure to crack-cocaine and ensuing addiction led to him dealing small amounts of rock cocaine and a series of arrests, convictions and progressively longer prison terms. Davis argued in his sentencing documents and in court that those prison sentences, which eventually led to a harsher punishment in his first robbery case, were a product of racist drug policies that assigned longer sentences for possessing and selling crack cocaine than powder cocaine.

In December 2010, three years after being shot in the head between prison stints, Akil Daniels turned to bank robbing, as did his brother. Over the next few months, according to a 2011 indictment, Akil Daniels robbed six banks, Asim Daniels robbed three — at least once while armed with a gun — and they allegedly pulled off one heist together.

Akil was sentenced to 13 years and four months, while Asim was sentenced to 11 years and nine months.

A quick payday

In 2021, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the FBI investigated 1,742 bank robberies in the U.S.

Hollywood bank heists are often carefully planned, well executed and violent, with masked gunmen pulling off elaborate schemes or firing their guns indiscriminately to thieve millions of dollars.

But the vast majority of real-world bank robberies are committed by people who are "not very sophisticated," according to Richard Schmitt, a clinical psychologist from the Arlington, Texas, area who evaluated more than 50 bank robbers over a four-year period in the late 1990s.

"A lot of these are done by the kind of guys who sent their kid off to school, gave them lunch money and saw that their bank account was dry and they're unemployed — so they go rob a bank," Schmitt said. "That's about the amount of planning ... it's very impulsive, very spur-of-the-moment."

Schmitt, who conducted his evaluations on behalf of federal defense attorneys in the Dallas and Fort Worth area, said there often seemed to be secondary motivations besides just a need for a quick payday.

"There's a certain euphoria that some people get from committing the act, and I think that euphoria is more than just momentary," he said. "That instant high during the robbery may be part of it, but they get an additional euphoria from reading about it and hearing about it on the news. It's almost a 15 minutes of fame, of finally being recognized after leading a life that's not very fulfilling."

Alan Mobley, a professor of criminal justice and public affairs at San Diego State University, said most people who rob bank tellers with demand notes are in search of easy money, typically for drugs, and will continue until they're caught.

Mobley said recidivism rates for all formerly incarcerated people are high due to sociological factors, such as strict laws and policies for those on parole and probation, a lack of resources for those leaving prison and the stigma of having been incarcerated. And while statistics show those convicted of robbery re-offend at higher rates, Mobley was surprised at how quickly the Daniels brothers did so.

Part of his surprise, he said, came from the brothers having served their previous sentences in federal prison. Though Mobley said the trauma of any imprisonment is severe, people incarcerated in federal prisons rather than state prisons typically experience better conditions with more opportunities for rehabilitation. Mobley knows first hand — he earned two college degrees while serving a federal sentence.

"For them to come out and walk back into a bank (a few months) later, it's very unusual," Mobley said. "It's such a remarkably short period of time for someone to go back to that sort of thing."

In 2014, Reimundo Orozco, Jr., pleaded guilty to a trio of 2013 robberies at banks in Vista and Carlsbad. He was sentenced to a little more than three years in federal prison, but days after his release, he was arrested again for robberies on back-to-back days at grocery store bank branches in Lake Elsinore and Escondido.

Mohamed Ahmed Hassan last month was found guilty by a federal judge of committing four robberies in January 2022 at Chase Bank branches in La Jolla, Clairemont, Kearny Mesa and Mission Valley. Prosecutors said he rode in an Uber to one robbery and a Lyft to another, both times using accounts in his own name.

Like the Daniels brothers, one of Hassan's targets his second go-around was a bank he'd robbed years earlier.

Released and rearrested

Asim Daniels, sentenced to a shorter prison term for the first string of robberies, was released before his brother. On Jan. 3, 2022, he allegedly walked into the Sun Community Federal Credit Union in Holtville and made off with $20,545 — more money than the brothers had taken during their entire previous spree. The next day, he allegedly robbed a teller at the Bank of the West near Grossmont Center in La Mesa, a branch that both he and his brother had robbed on separate occasions in 2011. La Mesa police officers arrested him at the mall a short time later.

He has pleaded not guilty, and his case is still pending, as is the case of their sister, who is charged as an accessory for allegedly handling some of the stolen money and transferring it to Asim's jail account.

Akil Daniels was released in June 2022, and on Sept. 27, he robbed the teller at the California Coast Credit Union in Chula Vista. The next day, he robbed a teller at the Mission Federal Credit Union in Poway.

Akil took his case to a jury. Once again, he was convicted. Last week, U.S. District Judge Linda Lopez sentenced him to nine years and two months in prison. Lopez told Daniels she remembered a hearing held before the September robberies, when he appeared in court on allegations of violating his release conditions.

"I was rooting for you," Lopez said. "When I saw the new charges come through, I was disappointed."

Daniels, who maintains his innocence and has appealed the judgment against him, did not address the judge or give any hint as to the reason for his quick return to bank robberies. But according to his attorney, he did give a reason to the officers who arrested him in 2011.

"How else am I going to get paid?" he asked them, according to his sentencing memorandum. "I'm on parole. I have a record."

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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