Mark Wetsch didn't really plan how he would rob the bank in tiny Brewster, Minn. So he went to a bar and ordered a gin and tonic to calm his nerves.
Feeling invincible, he said, he put on a black mask and dark jacket and strolled into the bank, demanding cash with a toy gun. Two hours later, authorities said, they finally caught the serial bank robber called the "Man in Black" when Wetsch was nabbed in St. Peter.
"If you would have asked me a week before I did this, I would have never dreamed I could do it," he said in a recent interview in jail. "I had lots of things going on in my life."
In federal court Monday, public defenders for Wetsch argued to suppress evidence and statements they say were improperly obtained during his arrest and interrogation.
In response, a prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney's office had two police officers and an FBI agent testify about how they searched Wetsch's vehicle when he was arrested in January and how they were careful to protect his rights during several interviews. The prosecutor declined to comment after the hearing.
Wetsch readily admitted to robbing the bank in Brewster during an interview last month in the Sherburne County jail. But he vehemently denied he is the "Man in Black" responsible for 12 other armed robberies federal authorities said he committed in Minnesota since last March.
Federal authorities, however, say Wetsch, 49, of Minneapolis, stole $69,000 and was nicknamed for the dark clothing authorities say he wore during most of the bank robberies.
In his orange jumpsuit and hair slicked back, the man who once was a motivational speaker spoke through a computer video screen in a common area in jail while other inmates roamed behind him.
"I am talking in attempts that my voice will be heard," Wetsch said.
From fraud to robbery
Wetsch was supposed to be the star of a redemption story.
In 2005, he was imprisoned after being convicted of defrauding a Twin Cities nursing home where he had worked out of $1.4 million.
After being released from prison, Wetsch teamed up for a series of presentations with Hank Shea Sr., who prosecuted him in the nursing home case. Shea left the U.S. attorney's office to teach at the University of St. Thomas Law School. Wetsch would talk to groups about the destructive behaviors and decisions that led to committing crime, the consequences of his actions, and lessons to be learned from his example.
Wetsch said his "moral compass would be pointing North" after his last stint in prison, and that he was sincere when he gave the talks.
"I wasn't trying to bamboozle anybody," he said.
Before the Brewster robbery, Wetsch was in financial trouble, he said. He started a home health care consulting business and was living paycheck to paycheck. He needed money to send his fiancée to Africa to visit her sister.
Days before the robbery, Wetsch visited his parents for Christmas. When his mother learned he had been arrested, she said she was glad because he needed help.
Anger at the government
Awaiting trial in the Sherburne County jail in Elk River, Wetsch questioned how the government could pin 12 other robberies on him. Lots of robbers wear black ski masks, and police only had a vague description of the robber, he said.
In a series of letters to a Star Tribune reporter, Wetsch accused the U.S. attorney's office of misconduct.
In a July letter, Wetsch said the FBI and U.S. attorney's office have perjured themselves by making statements to the media that he is the "Man in Black." He said the pretrial publicity could prevent him from obtaining an impartial jury and a fair trial.
He described the prosecuting attorney as malicious and wicked. The government, he said, wants a conviction at any cost and is using him to clear unsolvable bank robberies.
He has refused a plea offer. He said he wants to go to trial because he believes he has a strong case.
"It is a shocking tale of government iniquity," said Wetsch.
Federal officials couldn't be reached to discuss his allegations of misconduct.
In the interview, Wetsch said he is receiving support from family and friends, but he declined to talk about them. None appeared to be in the gallery at Monday's hearing in federal court in St. Paul.
The days in jail are long and boring, he said. His wait for trial was delayed for a month because U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham granted his request to delay Monday's hearing so it wouldn't conflict with Ramadan. He converted to Islam four years ago.
Wetsch joked that he has a little notoriety in jail because he is known as the Man in Black.
During the visit, Weltsch was mostly calm. But then he would put his head in his hands.
"If I read about this in the paper, I would wonder who the heck this guy is," he said.
David Chanen • 612-673-4465