Feds: Gunman pleads guilty to 3 bank robberies

Liz Evans Scolforo

A Berks County felon has pleaded guilty in federal court to robbing three banks — including a York County bank from which he stole nearly $20,000 at gunpoint.

Derek James Pelker, known as "D," was a wanted man at the time of the holdup, according to state police, who investigated the robbery. He had absconded from a state parole facility a week before the crime, police said.

The plea agreement between the U.S. Attorney's Office and Pelker, 27, of Wernersville, calls for him to serve 25 years in prison, according to a news release from office spokeswoman Dawn Mayko. The deal is subject to approval by a federal judge, she noted.

Derek Pelker

Pelker and seven other co-defendants, including a Wrightsville man, await sentencing for their roles in the robberies, Mayko said. Pelker pleaded guilty on Monday.

Pelker, along with Andrew Ishman, 31, of Wrightsville, and Ryan "Otis" Miller, 25, of the Pittsburgh area, robbed the former Susquehanna Bank, now BB&T Bank, at 1 S. Main St. in East Prospect the morning of April 24, 2015, according to Pelker's federal indictment.

The trio drove to the bank, where Ishman acted as lookout while Miller stayed in their vehicle as the getaway driver, the indictment states.

'Empty the vault': Pelker, wearing a mask and a hooded sweatshirt, walked into the bank and brandished a 9 mm Smith & Wesson handgun, He ordered a worker to "empty the vault" and handed her a pillowcase, according to the indictment.

He warned her not to give him any bait money or transmitters, police said. Bait money is bills whose serial numbers have been recorded and can later be tracked through purchases.

Pelker pointed the gun at the five bank employees present as well as at a woman who was the only customer in the bank at the time, according to charging documents filed by state police.

Because he's a convicted felon, state law forbids Pelker from owning or even holding a firearm, according to police.

Pelker then ordered a second bank teller to empty the cash from her teller drawer into the pillowcase, which she did, according to the indictment.

He ordered everyone inside the bank to turn away from him and remain in that position for at least two minutes, then he left the bank. He and Ishman jumped back into the Chevrolet Cruze where Miller was waiting, and the trio took off, officials said.

Andrew Ishman

Nearly $20K taken: They stole about $19,750 from the East Prospect bank, officials said.

State police filed bank robbery charges against Pelker and Ishman in York County Court, but those cases were closed when the men were indicted in federal court, according to court records.

Troopers focused on the men after a number of witnesses reported Ishman was involved, according to court documents.

Ishman's former girlfriend provided state police with a photo Ishman texted to her a day after the robbery, depicting a large amount of cash, with the attached text, "look what I made tonight my beautiful baby girl," court documents state.

Another witness told troopers that Ishman spoke with people about destroying the serial number from a gun, then told them about the bank robbery "and how the firearm and pillowcase were disposed of in the Susquehanna River," documents state.

Ishman also confessed his involvement in the robbery to a woman he was trying to "get with," according to state police, who said two other people told troopers that the day after the robbery, Ishman went to them looking for drugs and was in possession of several thousand dollars.

Lookout got $4K: During questioning by state police, Ishman confessed, implicated Pelker and Miller, and said Pelker gave him $4,000 for acting as lookout and kept most of the cash for himself, documents state.

Sentencing dates have not yet been set, but federal court records note Ishman's pre-sentencing conference is set for June 26, while Pelker's is set for Sept. 25. Miller, who pleaded guilty to that bank robbery and a second one, has a pre-sentencing conference set for June 26 in federal court.

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Pelker's defense attorney, Jeff Conrad, said his client is grateful the case is resolved, remorseful for his crimes and hopeful that he'll find a way "to become the man God intended him to be."

"He had a very difficult upbringing," the attorney said.

The other two bank holdups to which Pelker pleaded guilty were the May 19, 2015, robbery of National Penn Bank in Oley, Berks County, and the April 5, 2016, robbery of an M&T Bank branch in Lebanon, according to Mayko's news release.

Other guilty pleas: Five other co-defendants have pleaded guilty, Mayko said. They are:

  • Keith Pelker, 28, of Wernersville, for the Lebanon robbery. Officials said he is Derek Pelker's brother.
  • Shannon Gazouris, 24, of Shillington, for the Lebanon robbery
  • William Papoutsis, 35, of Reading, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Officials said he is the Pelkers' uncle.
  • Kelsie Bair, 28, and Lindsey School, 27, both of Lebanon, who pleaded guilty to being accessories after the fact for disposing of the weapon used in the Lebanon robbery off a pier in Ocean City, New Jersey. The gun was later recovered by an FBI scuba team, Mayko said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.