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Two accused in Lewiston bank holdup had robbed banks before

BY SCOTT DOLAN

Joseph Richards, 46, of Manchester, New Hampshire, and the accused getaway driver, Neil West Sr., 64, of Portland, are each ordered temporarily detained by a federal judge in Portland.

Two ex-convicts accused of an armed bank robbery in Lewiston that was followed by a high-speed chase ending with their arrests in Saco over the weekend had each done federal time for bank robbery in the past.

The man accused of carrying out Saturday's robbery at TD Bank in Lewiston, Joseph Richards, 46, of Manchester, New Hampshire, and his accused getaway driver, Neil West Sr., 64, of Portland, were brought Monday to U.S. District Court in Portland, where they faced charges of violating the terms of release for their prior convictions in addition to the new charges.

Richards and West both temporarily waived their right to a detention hearing during their separate court appearances, and Magistrate Judge John H. Rich III ordered them both held while the cases against them are pending.

The pair were arrested late Saturday morning a little more than two hours after the TD Bank branch at 790 Lisbon St. was robbed around 8:45 a.m. by a masked gunman who escaped with $8,690 in cash, according to court documents filed Monday by FBI Agent Christopher Peavey.

"The bank was robbed by a man wearing a yellow-hooded sweatshirt and a mask. Witnesses observed the man carrying a black handgun, which he immediately pointed at bank employees upon entering the bank. The man then vaulted the teller counter, removed the bills from the drawers and placed them in a black trash bag," Peavey wrote in an affidavit supporting criminal charges against the two men,

Witnesses also reported seeing the robber run behind a nearby Aaron's store and get into a waiting Chrysler Town and Country minivan, Peavey wrote in the affidavit.

A Maine State Police trooper later spotted the minivan headed south on Interstate 95 near Scarborough and began a high-speed chase that was soon joined by other police, according to the affidavit.

"After multiple attempts to disable the vehicle, Maine State Police successfully disabled the vehicle, which ran off the road in the vicinity of Ferry Road in Saco. Both occupants fled on foot," Peavey wrote.

Police first arrested the driver of the minivan after a brief chase and identified him as West. A witness later spotted Richards by 514 Ferry Road, and he was arrested around 11:08 a.m. with a backpack containing $9,870 in cash and a black pellet gun, the affidavit says.

Prior to West's most recent arrest, he was sentenced in federal court in Maine on June 4, 2013, to serve 41 months in prison for another bank robbery. He was released from prison in May, and was serving a three-year term of supervised release. In the older case, West had served as the getaway driver for a robbery on Jan. 23, 2012, at a Bank of America branch in Wells, according to court records.

Richards had previously been convicted in federal court in New Hampshire of bank robbery and sentenced in 2003 to serve 151 months in prison. He was freed from prison in March and was serving a three-year term of supervised release in New Hampshire.

Neither man was required to enter a plea at Monday's hearings, since the cases against them have yet to be brought before a grand jury seeking an indictment.

West appeared in court first, wearing an orange jail uniform that exposed tattoos depicting spider webs on both arms. He had a gray handlebar mustache that extended to his jawline and a balding hairline. His belly hung out from beneath his uniform top.

West spoke little at the hearing, answering only yes or no in a soft voice as the judge questioned him. West waived his right to a preliminary hearing on a charge of aiding and abetting bank robbery after the fact and was ordered held until his attorney, Jonathan Goodman, may request a detention hearing in the future.

If convicted, West faces up to 10 years in prison on the new charge and up to two years of additional time if he is found to be in violation of his probation for the prior conviction.

Richards appeared with his attorney, Michael Whipple, and sought to contest the grounds of the new bank robbery charge against him. Whipple requested a probable cause hearing be held Friday, when he and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Conley will be able to question one or more witnesses.

Richards also wore an orange jail uniform, whispered with Whipple multiple times and answered the judge in a clear voice. Richards appeared clean-shaven with closely cropped dark hair.

Rich ordered Richards held until Friday's hearing, when the lawyers would again address whether Richards will continue to be detained.

If convicted, Richards faces up to 20 years in prison on the new bank robbery charge and up to two years of additional prison time if he is found to be in violation of his probation in the New Hampshire case.

The law firm of Hallett, Zerillo, and Whipple, P.A. are Maine attorneys representing clients who have been seriously injured, accused of crimes in state and federal court, have business litigation needs or family law and divorce cases. Various attorneys in the firm have been locally and nationally recognized for their achievements, including admission into New England Super Lawyers, the Client's Choice Award from AVVO.com, and the President's Award from the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. For more information on the firm, please visit www.HZWlaw.com.

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