Katrina Garcia’s push to derail her 22-year-old son’s bank robbery plea got a boost Monday.
At his sentencing, Michael Charles Garcia, told U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey that he was “under duress” and felt “coerced” by his lawyer, Todd Leventhal, into signing a plea agreement in July that called for a sentence of probation.
Garcia said he now wanted to withdraw his plea.
“I did not want to sign it,” Garcia said. “I signed it to shut him up.”
His mother, who was sitting in the courtroom, had claimed in unauthorized court documents that Garcia was innocent.
Dorsey put off the sentencing and scheduled a Nov. 14 hearing to determine whether to allow Garcia to withdraw his plea.
The Garcias, featured in a Las Vegas Review-Journal story on Sunday, said afterward they were happy with the judge’s decision and wanted Leventhal off the case.
“This is good,” said Katrina Garcia, 54. “He needs another attorney who will do the right thing and put on a defense for him.”
Leventhal, a veteran lawyer appointed to represent Michael Garcia, had negotiated a rare plea deal with Assistant U.S. Attorney Amber Craig in which prosecutors agreed not to oppose probation. Federal probation officers, however, recommended a prison term of 37 months.
Craig described the plea deal as a “generous offer” and said there was “absolutely no duress” placed on Garcia to strike an agreement. Garcia pleaded guilty in open court and voiced no reservations when another federal judge questioned him at length under oath about the deal.
Craig said Katrina Garcia is an unstable person who has interjected herself into every aspect of her son’s case.
“He’s somewhat brainwashed by his mother,” she said.
Katrina Garcia also has made “false and libelous remarks” and has threatened Leventhal in the case, Craig said.
Leventhal said he was looking out for the best interests of his client and wasn’t concerned about the “noise” coming from his mother. He said he did not coerce Michael Garcia into signing the deal and that Monday was the first time his client told him directly that he wanted to withdraw his plea.
After Dorsey called off the sentencing, Craig said she would seek an order to revoke Garcia’s bond and put him back in federal custody for violating the rules of the federal halfway house where he is staying.
Garcia had confessed to driving the getaway car in the $1,600 robbery of a Citibank branch on Jan. 31, 2012.
He eventually pleaded guilty to attempting to pull off the robbery of a City National Bank branch before the Citibank heist.
In his agreement with federal prosecutors, Garcia acknowledged that he went inside the City National Bank, but failed to carry out the robbery. He also admitted that from there, he drove his co-defendant, Matthew Dale Dewberry, to the Citibank caper.
Dewberry, 41, who said his real name is Robert Gruscynski, pleaded guilty Monday before Dorsey to one count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery and one count of bank robbery. He has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and is to be sentenced Feb. 3.
Katrina Garcia contends she, not her son, unwittingly drove Dewberry to the robbery of the Citibank branch at 8701 W. Sahara Ave. The car used in the robbery, 2001 Buick Century, was registered to her.
But she failed an FBI-administered polygraph, and authorities did not charge her.
Several weeks after the robbery, Garcia turned in Dewberry, a drifter who had been living with the Garcias, and tried unsuccessfully to collect reward money from the FBI.
At one point, a federal magistrate warned Garcia to stop filing documents in her son’s case or face time behind bars on civil contempt charges.
Dewberry admitted committing the Citibank heist, but also provided FBI agents with additional evidence of Michael Garcia’s involvement.
Dewberry told agents that Katrina Garcia put him up to robbing the bank because he had no money and she wanted him to start paying rent.
He said he openly discussed the robbery with both Garcias, and Katrina instructed him how to write a demand note that included the words, “no GPS, no dye packs” according to a report of his April 2012 interview with FBI agents.
Katrina Garcia has denied persuading Dewberry to rob the bank.
Contact reporter Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Follow him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.