Disguised in a wig and brandishing a pellet gun, Kelvin Barton terrorized bank employees throughout the Lowcountry in a yearlong series of heists.
On Monday, the North Charleston man owned up to those crimes and placed his fate in the hands of a federal judge.
Barton, a hulking 37-year-old with a sweeping mane of dreadlocks, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Charleston to committing five bank robberies between July 2010 and June of last year, when he was finally nabbed after a high-speed car chase.
District Judge Richard Gergel will sentence Barton at a later date. He faces up to 25 years in prison for each of the holdups, though it is unlikely he will receive that much time behind bars.
Barton, who has done federal time before for robbing a bank, apparently learned one key lesson from his first go-round: He used a fake gun instead of a real pistol, which could have added another 25 years to his sentence, authorities said.
Barton was indicted on five counts of using a firearm in a violent crime, a charge that carries a minimum of five years in prison for each offense. But prosecutors dropped those charges after determining the weapon in the crime appeared to be an air pistol, as Barton had claimed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alston Badger said.
Barton ditched the weapon before he was caught, but his public defender, Cameron Blazer, found a receipt from a sporting goods store showing someone had purchased an air pistol on his account two days before the first robbery in July 2010, Badger said.
Badger said Barton netted a total of $21,000 in four of the robberies. He left empty-handed in another because the bank tellers all dove to the floor when he pulled out his weapon, leaving no one to empty the till for him, he said.
Badger said the air pistol looked like a semi-automatic pistol, and Barton left tellers shaken by pointing the weapon at them. He wore a wig or hood to hide his telltale long dreads, which might have tipped police off to his identity, he said.
Barton admitted to robbing a National Bank of South Carolina branch office in Summerville on July 3, 2010; a State Credit Union branch office in North Charleston on Sept. 2, 2010; a National Bank of South Carolina branch office in West Ashley on April 5; a SunTrust bank in North Charleston on May 27; and a First Federal Savings and Loan branch office in West Ashley on June 7.
His streak came to an end that day when a witness spotted his getaway car and relayed a vehicle description to Charleston County deputies, Badger said. Barton wrecked his car after a chase, and deputies recovered most of the $7,000 taken in the holdup, he said.
Barton was on supervised release at the time in connection with his 2000 conviction for robbing a First National Bank of South Carolina branch office in Summerville the year before. He was released from prison in September 2009, according to federal records.