Mother fights son’s guilty plea, says she was driver in bank robbery

Katrina Garcia probably wishes she could take back the last 18 months of her life.

She has been locked in a war of words with federal authorities over her son’s role in a bank robbery.

According to FBI reports, Garcia convinced her son and a local drifter living with them to rob a bank in January 2012 so the drifter could pay rent to her.

Garcia, 54, denies the allegation.

But she doesn’t deny turning in the drifter, Matthew Dale Dewberry, less than two months after the robbery in an attempt to collect reward money.

The day after she phoned in the tip to Las Vegas police, FBI agents interviewed her son, Michael Charles Garcia, and he confessed to driving the getaway car in the $1,600 robbery of a Citibank branch on Jan. 31, 2012, the FBI reports show. The car, a black 2001 Buick Century, was registered to Katrina Garcia.

Things went downhill from there for the Garcias.

FBI agents arrested Michael Garcia, 22, in April 2012 and began searching for Dewberry, also known as Robert Gruscynski, who had fled to Mississippi. Both men were indicted by a federal grand jury. Though Dewberry was charged under that name, the FBI reports consistently refer to him as Gruscynski. The reports list two Social Security numbers for him and two ages, 41 and 42.

Katrina Garcia, while pressing agents for the reward money, offered to help them get Dewberry to confess, the FBI reports show. She volunteered to call him and carry on a conversation secretly monitored by agents. But at the last minute, she decided not to cooperate as long as her son was in custody.

More than a year later, Dewberry was arrested, and he admitted committing the heist at the Citibank branch at 8701 W. Sahara Ave. Dewberry also provided agents with additional evidence of Michael Garcia’s involvement.

Dewberry, an admitted heroin addict who had drifted back and forth between Las Vegas, Florida and California looking for work, told agents he met Katrina Garcia at The Orleans, where they played video poker together. She agreed to let him sleep on the floor of her home.

In August 2012, prior to Dewberry’s arrest, Garcia went to FBI agents again, this time insisting that she, not her son, unknowingly had driven Dewberry to the Citibank on the day of the robbery, according to the FBI reports.

Garcia, who was advised of her rights not to incriminate herself, said she thought she was driving Dewberry there to make a wire transfer to obtain $500 he owed her.

She told agents her son had falsely confessed to driving the getaway car because he was “stupid” and was trying to protect her.

But a few months later in November, Garcia failed an FBI-administered polygraph on her claims. The FBI never charged her in the robbery.

In an interview with the Review-Journal, Garcia contended the FBI “set her up” to fail the polygraph.

“There was no way I could pass it,” she said.

In the months after the polygraph, Garcia continued to press FBI agents for the reward money, but they kept brushing her off.

By July, after Michael Garcia had spent months in custody, defense lawyer Todd Leventhal negotiated a plea deal for him with Assistant U.S. Attorney Amber Craig in which prosecutors agreed not to oppose probation at sentencing.

Federal probation officers, how­ever, last week recommended a 37-month prison term.

Garcia pleaded guilty to trying to rob another bank before the Citibank heist.

In his agreement, he admitted he went inside a City National Bank branch at 6085 W. Twain Ave., but failed to carry out the robbery. He also admitted that from there he drove Dewberry to the Citibank robbery.

That should have been the end of the story.

But Katrina Garcia, still looking for the reward money, wasn’t happy with the deal. She went around Leventhal and filed court papers on behalf of her son insisting he did not participate in the Citibank robbery.

Garcia again contended that she unwittingly drove Dewberry to the scene of the crime.

In her court papers, a defiant Katrina Garcia, who claimed to have gotten power of attorney from her son, sought to derail the plea agreement and once more demanded the FBI pay her for turning in Dewberry.

That landed her in trouble with a federal judge, who reprimanded her for filing unauthorized documents in the case. Leventhal, as her son’s attorney, is the only one allowed to file documents on his behalf.

At the request of angry federal prosecutors last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach ordered Garcia’s court papers purged from the record and told her to stop filing documents.

Ferenbach warned Garcia that if she filed more documents, she could face serious consequences, including time behind bars.

Garcia, who says she is an unemployed paralegal, has obeyed the judge’s order all month, but she continues to maintain that her son was not involved in the Citibank robbery. She contends Leventhal coerced him into signing the plea agreement.

“It’s wrong to sentence an innocent man,” said Garcia, who insisted she filed the court documents because she wanted the court to know what really happened with her son. “It was the right thing to do.”

Leventhal would not comment on the case because it is still ongoing.

Michael Garcia is to be sentenced Monday before U.S District Judge Jennifer Dorsey. Dewberry is to enter a guilty plea afterward.

Katrina Garcia said she asked Leventhal to file a letter she wrote to Dorsey again claiming her son did not commit a crime. Garcia said in the letter that prosecutors did not have a “shred of evidence” to prove his guilt and that she and her son have been enduring a “legal nightmare” since his indictment.

Leventhal responded that he would not file the letter, but would read “relevant” excerpts in court.

“My first and only obligation is to protect my client,” he explained.

Earlier this year, Dewberry told FBI 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 agents.

“She showed him information she’d retrieved off the Internet, telling him that bank policy was that if he went in with a note, the tellers would have to do what he told them,” the report says.

Dewberry quoted Garcia as saying, “If you tell them to stand on one foot and bark like a dog, they have to do it.”

Garcia threatened to “throw him out on the street” if he didn’t pull off the robbery,” Dewberry told agents.

While he and Michael Garcia were driving to the bank, Dewberry said, they decided to go ahead with the robbery because they felt beaten down by Garcia’s mother and didn’t want to return home without any money.

Dewberry said he had a knife he wanted to use in the robbery, but couldn’t remember if he had brought it to the Citibank office, the report shows.

He explained how the two men wound up at the bank and how he passed the demand note to a teller and left with the $1,600. He said he gave Katrina Garcia $300.

Katrina Garcia denied putting her son and Dewberry up to committing the Citibank robbery, saying Dewberry has no credibility.

“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s not something I would do, even in my dreams.”

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.

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