BENTON — It was out of desperation that Arthur Bays, 82, robbed a Benton bank last July, according to testimony during his sentencing hearing Thursday for the federal crime.
As previously reported by The Southern, Bays was arrested in late July after robbing the bank at gunpoint. The charges against Bays said he entered the State Bank of Whittington and wasted little time making his way to the teller station. Brandishing what appeared to be a firearm in his waistband, he provided the teller with a white bag and demanded money.
An investigation revealed that Bays took $12,528 from the bank.
Bays changed his plea to guilty in November, and on Thursday was sentenced to 48 months of probation, as well as 10 weekends to be spent in jail.
The decision on sentencing wasn’t an easy one for Judge Phil Gilbert. He even said as much to the court.
“This is a difficult decision to make,” Gilbert said to the octogenarian. “You may be the oldest criminal I have ever had in court.”
Gilbert said while he needed to consider sentencing as a deterrent for others tempted to commit a similar crime, he also knew that any significant incarceration time for Bays could be a life sentence.
Representing the U.S. Government, George Norwood made the case for incarceration over probation. He said Bays may have argued that age and health concerns — Bays has problems with breathing, aneurysms and his heart — should be reason enough to keep him from going to federal prison, but those problems didn't stop him from committing the crime.
“It didn’t prevent him from doing it in the first (place),” he said.
Then, there was the issue of gambling and payday loans. Norwood pointed to a detail in the pre-sentencing investigation report that made note of three stacks of scratch-off tickets that were between 10 and 12 inches high each in Bays’ apartment. He characterized Bays as gambling addict.
Norwood also noted that Bays had used the money taken from State Bank of Whittington to pay down his loans.
“That is not a reason to rob a bank,” Norwood said.
Melissa Day, Bays’ defense attorney, painted a very different picture for Judge Gilbert. She said Bays’ story is “not quite that simple.”
She said that Bays has been financially unstable since his wife died — Day explained that Bays lost his home and life savings paying for his wife’s medical care prior to her death.
“Art lost everything trying to care for his wife,” she said. As for the gambling, she said he and his wife had visited a casino one time and took only $100 to bet with. She said gambling wasn't the reason he robbed the bank — it wasn't that cut and dry.
Bays said he now lives off of about $1,300 from Social Security and, until Thursday, had been living in public housing.
During his statement of allocution, Bays himself said he has lived modestly for years — the tickets mentioned by Norwood, he said, represented about three years worth of scratch-offs.
Bays said he got into financial hot water when the air conditioning went out in his car — he said this would have cost $2,000 to repair. Bays said he went to a dealership to explore his options.
“I let them talk me into buying a new car,” Bays said. He said within making five payments, he was already over his head. He soon was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, taking out loans from five different payday or fast cash lenders.
That’s when he decided to find a bank to rob.
“I’m sorry I did what I did,” Bays told the court.
Crystal Heumann was the teller that served Bays that day in July. She said in a statement to the court that she still is dealing with the trauma — she doesn’t like serving strangers, especially elderly strangers, after Bays threatened her with a gun last year.
The gun was later found to be a toy, but the state and Judge Gilbert said this detail didn’t matter. It still could have created a cascade of events that could have been far more tragic than what actually happened.
“I know she will never be able to forgive me,” Bays said, facing Heumann in the courtroom.
“This is a week I almost wish I didn’t have to show up to work,” Gilbert said before announcing Bays sentencing.
“Mr. Bays, I have really struggled with what to do,” he said.
Within the 48 months of probation to which Bays was sentenced, 180 days are to be spent in home confinement, with permissions being given for legal, medical and religious appointments. He is also to pay about $1,700 in restitution and spend 10 weekly two-day stays in a county jail.
Gilbert also said he is not to gamble in any way and is to have no contact at all with the State Bank of Whittington or its employees.