'Ashamed' serial robber thanks teller for speaking against her in Mpls. court

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 21, 2014 - 9:41 PM

A bank robber gets 3½ years after thanking a teller for speaking out against her at court sentencing.

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Ranya Al-Huthaili

Photo: Ramsey County jail,

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An unusual reckoning played out in a Minneapolis federal courtroom Wednesday when a bank teller and her robber faced each other again.

Mary Zacharias, her voice cracking, told U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen of her terror when the woman in dark glasses handed her a note that said she had a gun. “I thought I was going to die,” she said, and asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.

Then came the young robber’s turn to address the judge, and she thanked the teller for speaking out.

“I am terribly sorry,” she said. “Her testimony shook me up. I don’t expect a break. … I’m glad she came. Everybody has to know how bad I was. I am so ashamed.”

Ericksen sentenced Ranya Al-Huthaili, 23, to 3½ years in prison Wednesday for committing five bank robberies in the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin last year. In the robberies, she passed tellers a note, saying she had a gun, although she was unarmed.

So ended the bizarre saga of a Roseville High School graduate who was born into wealth in Saudi Arabia but moved to a life of modest means in Minnesota, where she came under the influence of a lying boyfriend who claimed he needed money to pay off the Mafia and afford cancer treatments. She took out an $8,000 loan, then went on a crime spree to raise more funds for him. She said he was unaware of the robberies.

Dan Scott, her attorney, wrote in a presentence memorandum that Al-Huthaili grew up in Saudi society dominated by men, and suffered from a “dependent personality disorder” according to a psychological evaluation Scott commissioned. It made her more susceptible to domination by an unscrupulous man. He said her move from “one of the most restrictive societies in the world to one of the least restrictive” proved disorienting.

‘She terrorized us’

Ericksen’s courtroom was hushed on Wednesday when Zacharias described the 45 seconds in which she said the robbery occurred at KleinBank in Cologne, Minn. It changed her life, she said.

“She terrorized us,” said Zacharias.

From Aug. 15 to Sept. 9, 2013, she robbed banks in Cologne, Wyoming and Forest Lake in Minnesota and Hudson and Menomonie in Wisconsin.

Assistant Kevin Ueland asked for a four-year, nine-month sentence while Scott sought a two-year term. Scott said his client was very remorseful, unlike the “Man in Black.”

That robber, Sheik Arafat, was sentenced earlier this week to 14 years in prison for 31 Minnesota bank robberies in 2011-12.

Ericksen said she’d toyed with a shorter sentence, but noted Al-Huthaili had planned each robbery, and there was no indication that she’d have stopped her crime spree unless she’d been caught. “You were on a roll,” she told Al-Huthaili.

Ericksen also ordered her to pay back the $20,182 that she stole, through both her employment in prison and money she earns when she is paroled.

About 40 family members and friends attended the sentencing to show their support for Al-Huthaili.

Scott said afterward that since the eight months in jail would count toward her sentence, she could be moved to a halfway house after federal prison in 20 to 22 months.

“I was hoping for less,” said Al-Huthaili’s mother, Mary Esch. “She’s my daughter. I understand the gravity. But as a mother, I want her home.”

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