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Man arrested for bank robbery

32-year-old suspect allegedly signed his name to the holdup note

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2005

Tellers robbed at a downtown bank Wednesday told police the man said "please" and signed his name to his note.

Neil W. Haapala, a 32-year-old Juneau man, was arrested at the Airport Travelodge motel about six hours after he fled from First National Bank of Alaska, 238 Front St., with about $4,400 in what bank officials described as "unfit currency" and Canadian money, according to Juneau court records.

At an initial hearing Thursday afternoon in Juneau District Court, Magistrate John W. Sivertsen Jr. set bail at $20,000. Haapala did not enter pleas to the charges of first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery and second-degree theft. He will be asked to enter pleas if the felonies are remanded to Superior Court.

Haapala has a history of "mainly alcohol-related offenses" and poses a danger to the community, Assistant District Attorney Jack Schmidt said during the hearing. Haapala was recently released from jail on a felony conviction for "terroristic threats," he added.

Two tellers at the bank never saw a weapon, according to an affidavit Schmidt provided. One said the man approached her with a note that read, "give me your 20s," and asked for a sack.

That teller provided the robber with about $500 in $20 bills. The robber moved to a second teller and asked for more money, telling her not to push the alarm, "or else," the affidavit alleges.

The tellers provided police with the robber's note, Schmidt wrote.

It read, "Fill this bag, please, (signed) Neil. Please, please fill now or bam." The figure "$112,000" was written on the note, the court records show.

Bank officials reported $4,400 was stolen. It consisted of $20 and $1 bills that were "unfit" for circulation - Canadian currency and worn money the bank was collecting for destruction at the Federal Reserve, according to court records.

Schmidt said the robber pointed at the duffel bag he brought into the bank and put his hand in his pocket, implying he had a weapon. An implication is enough to charge Haapala with first-degree robbery, as if he were armed, Schmidt added.

Juneau Police Capt. Tom Porter said police recovered a duffel bag Thursday after the robbery from the Gastineau Apartments on Franklin Street at the end of Front Street. Although it held no money, it did have Haapala's name inside.

Witnesses reported seeing the robber flee in the direction of the apartment building with a duffel bag. Court records show the duffel bag was found in the fourth floor garbage room. A maintenance man reported seeing someone matching the description of the robber in the elevator.

The film from the security cameras in the bank wasn't developed, but police showed a picture of Haapala to the maintenance man and bank employees. All picked Haapala out of the lineup, the affidavit stated.

At about 5 p.m., when police were searching the Gastineau Apartments room by room, Haapala checked into the Airport Travelodge. Police believe he took a taxi, according to court records.

Police expanded their search to include area lodging and discovered where Haapala registered. At about 9:30 p.m., Haapala saw police and was apprehended after trying to flee, Porter said.

In his room and possession, police found Canadian currency and $20 and $1 bills unfit for circulation, court records allege.

Court documents also allege that while questioned by Juneau police and a FBI special agent, Haapala said he had been sitting across from the bank, upset about having no money. He allegedly wrote a statement saying he was sorry.

The state deposited permanent fund dividends in bank accounts for more than 400,000 Alaskans Wednesday, but court records show that Haapala wouldn't have received any money. In June, his state dividend was assigned to the state for payment toward the cost of his previous incarceration. In at least two cases, the judge has ordered the incarceration fee to come out of future dividends.

The maximum prison sentence for the three crimes Haapala is charged with adds up to 35 years, Sivertsen said.

The two robbery charges refer to the bank robbery under different theories of the law. The usual sentence for the most serious charge would be 10 to 14 years. For second-degree robbery, the range would be four to 10 years. The range for the theft charge would be two to four years.

Haapala could face additional time suspended from previous sentences - 14 months from the terroristic threatening felony, to which he pleaded guilty in September, and 130 days from a reckless driving conviction that was originally charged as drunken driving.

The terroristic threatening case, in June, alleged that he claimed to have a bomb in his room at the Super 8 motel. In seven convictions during 2004 and 2005 in Juneau, he was charged with larceny, concealing merchandise and theft of services, according to court records.

In several cases, he was charged with theft of alcohol, despite no-alcohol terms of his probation sentences, court records show. He also pleaded guilty to refusing to pay a taxi driver a $13.30 fare from the Super 8 motel to his home in the Switzer Village Mobile Home Park. In another case, he was charged with larceny for leaving Fred Meyer with $145.96 in merchandise without paying. Previous convictions also include probation violations.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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