URBANA — An Urbana man who began robbing banks in late 2012 within 72 hours of being released from federal prison for a previous conviction has been sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison.
Willie B. Franklin II, 38, whose last known address was on West Beech Street, was also ordered to make $31,174 in restitution to the victims of his latest crime spree and to pay another $15,382 in unpaid fines, fees and restitution from a previous court case.
The money will come from an inheritance Franklin received after the March 28 death of his father Willie B. Franklin Sr., 76, of Champaign.
Mr. Franklin was a lineman for Illinois Power Co. for 32 years and was known locally as one of the members of the "Heavenly Seven Social Club," a group of retired men who for many years distributed book bags and school supplies to needy children at the beginning of the school year.
Franklin sobbed as he read aloud a rambling letter that among other things, talked of his father's influence, and the judge's previous attempts to persuade him to make better choices.
Franklin pleaded guilty in January of this year to five counts of bank robbery, admitting that he robbed banks in Kankakee, Peoria, Manteno, Quincy and Iowa City, Iowa, between Dec. 3, 2012, and Dec. 26, 2012.
In those heists, he netted a total of $16,470. When he was found in a Tampa, Fla., motel room in January 2013, he ran but was captured minutes later. He admitted to federal agents that he had robbed more than a dozen banks in three states "to provide a good Christmas to his children." His approach was the same in all the holdups: he would present a note to a teller that read, 'This is a robbery, give me all your hundreds, fifties and twenties, no dye packs.' He would then leave with the cash without displaying a weapon or physically harming anyone.
The government, through Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Bohm, had argued for a sentence of 13 1/2 years for Franklin, while his court-appointed attorney, Baku Patel of Urbana, asked for a minimal 63 months in prison .McCuskey sentenced him to 10 years and five months but did not impose a fine.
The recommendations came after testimony concerning Franklin's attempts to give a Macon County correctional officer power of attorney over his expected inheritance of about $110,000.
Bohm had a representative of Morgan Stanley testify about his multiple conversations with Franklin about the handling of his account, which was set up after his father died. Franklin has four siblings who also shared in the inheritance.
Mark Cushing testified that he spoke with Franklin from the jail several times and that Franklin wanted Penny Adams, a corporal at the Macon County Jail where Franklin has been housed for the last year, to be his power of attorney. Cushing said Franklin had indicated to him that he trusted Adams.
"He thought the world of her. He felt she was his soul mate and his intentions when he got out were to marry her," Cushing said.
The financial advisor said Franklin made it clear to him that he had three goals for the money: to make restitution to his crime victims, to assist a nephew with college expenses, and to set up a college fund for a 3-year-old daughter.
Cushing said Franklin wanted him to get the money to Adams so that she could present it to the court on May 19, the initial date of Franklin's sentence.
The government, however, took a different view, with Bohm arguing that Franklin intended to move the money to Adams and "to use the money as he deems fit."
The prosecutor argued the attempt to move the money amounted to Franklin not accepting responsibility for his crime, and therefore deserving of a harsher sentence.
Sgt. Matt Reynolds, assistant superintendent of the Macon County Jail, testified that Adams admitted on May 16 that she gave Franklin a cellphone that he was using to call Cushing. She resigned from the job she'd held for 26 years and was arrested on charges of official misconduct later on May 16.
But McCuskey rejected the government's argument, saying there was nothing to prove that Adams wasn't going to carry out Franklin's wishes.
"I know the government is upset and in their opinion, they don't think he accepted responsibility. That was not my finding. Willie has always wanted to look good in front of me," said McCuskey, who said he had sentenced Franklin on several prior occasions.
Franklin's criminal history began 20 years ago and includes convictions for criminal damage to property, five for car theft, escape, bail jumping, forgery, bank fraud and possession of marijuana in a penal institution.
The three-hour sentencing hearing was the first of the veteran jurist's last week on the federal bench. McCuskey is leaving after the close of business Friday after more than 15 years on the federal bench and almost 40 in the legal profession.
"I like you personally. I just don't know why you do what you do," McCuskey told the former Urbana High School basketball player, who has fathered three daughters.
He also commended Franklin for not being violent and said the only reason his sentence was as light as it was is that he had not displayed a weapon in any of the robberies.