Man who withdrew plea in East Prospect robbery found guilty

A Berks County man who pleaded guilty to robberies, including one in York County, then withdrew his plea, was found guilty on armed bank robbery charges, according to officials.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release that Derek Pelker, 28, of Wernersville, was convicted by a jury on four counts of armed bank robbery and two counts each of brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Derek Pelker

Pelker represented himself in the five-day trial, which ended Friday, May 18.

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.

He also was found guilty of robbing two banks in Valley View and Lebanon, according to the release.

More:Feds: Gunman pleads guilty to 3 bank robberies

More:Recently released federal inmate charged in York City bank robbery

Plea withdrawn: In May 2017, Pelker pleaded guilty to three robberies, including the East Prospect one.

However, in September 2017 he withdrew his plea, according to court records. The motion to withdraw his guilty plea states that his attorney at the time had talked to Pelker's girlfriend prior to the plea agreement, and he had asked her to help convince Pelker to accept the agreement.

Had his girlfriend not urged him to take the plea agreement, he would not have taken the agreement, according to court records.

That agreement would have resulted in 25 years in prison, a five-year period of supervised release and more than $32,000 in restitution.

The order to withdraw his plea was granted on Sept. 1, 2017.

East Prospect robbery: Pelker, wearing a mask and a hooded sweatshirt, walked into the East Prospect bank and brandished a 9 mm Smith & Wesson handgun, then  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 refers to 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.

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 removing 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.

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.

Other guilty pleas: Four other co-defendants have pleaded guilty, the release states They are:

  • Keith Pelker, 28, of Wernersville, who pleaded guilty for the Lebanon robbery. Officials said he is Derek Pelker's brother.
  • Shannon Gazouris, 24, of Shillington, who pleaded guilty for the Lebanon robbery.
  • Ryan Martin, 27, of Reading, who pleaded guilty to the two bank robberies in Valley View.
  • 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, according to officials. 
  • William Papoutsis, 35, of Reading, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Papoutsis, who is the Pelkers' uncle, was sentenced to six months in prison, according to officials.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.