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Grandma Bandit pleads guilty

By: Penne Usher
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Federal officials announced Monday that a Rocklin woman pleaded guilty last week to a single count of armed bank robbery and fraud. Valerie Harris, 50, dubbed the Grandma Bandit by federal authorities, now faces up to 250 years in federal prison. Harris pleaded guilty March 24 to a charge of armed robbery and six counts of bank fraud, officials said. According to state prosecutor Michelle Rodriguez, Harris admitted that she used and carried a Colt 454 when robbing the U.S. Bank inside a Safeway grocery store on Sunrise Avenue in Roseville. Harris, who is not related to Auburn's Chief of Police Valerie Harris, pleaded not guilty to the charges during her arraignment. She changed her mind and entered into a plea agreement. Harris stole checks from Merry X-ray Chemical Corporation in Sacramento, where she worked from mid-2000 to May 2005, altered them and deposited the funds into her own bank account. At the end of the winter of 2004 (Harris) devised a scheme to steal remittance checks, Rodriguez said Monday. She intercepted the large-sum vendor checks from the mail and then altered and forged them using among other things, a corporate signature stamp. She was arrested Dec. 18 at her Rocklin home after law enforcement officials received a tip that Harris attempted to pay a debt with bank robbery loot. According to court documents filed March 5 with the U.S. District Court Eastern District Harris stole more than $39,000 in checks from her employer and $1,243 from the bank by force. The defendant did assault and place in jeopardy the life of an employee ¦ by the use of a dangerous weapon, court documents state. Harris worked at Hall Enterprises on Lincoln Way in Auburn as a data specialist for more than two years prior to her arrest. Richard Hall has said that Harris was an excellent employee, very reliable and honest. Although Harris has not provided a motive for the crimes, Rodriguez said Harris was apparently in serious debt. There's an indication that she was living beyond her means and was accustomed to that lifestyle, Rodriguez said. It's unfortunate that she resorted to that level of criminal activity to satisfy a lifestyle. Some just don't see how anyone could commit a crime to pay bills. Why not file for bankruptcy if the bills are just too much? Dwayne Kelly, of Rocklin said Monday afternoon in Old Town Auburn. I can't see committing a felony to pay bills, regardless of my lifestyle. Helena Smith, who was visiting the Auburn area Monday, said she feels some sympathy for Harris. I can see being in a tight spot financially, especially in these economic times, but to resort to bank robbery? Smith questioned. She must have been feeling very desperate. Harris faces up to 25 years in federal prison for the armed robbery and 30 years in federal prison for each bank fraud charge. Penalties for each count also include up to five years of supervised release and a fine. The actual sentence will be determined June 2, 2008 in federal court. The Journal's Penne Usher can be reached at penneu@goldcountrymedia.com