In August, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Akeem Monsalvatge, Edward Byam, and Derrick Dunkley of robbing two Pay-O-Matic check cashing outlets in Queens. The second robbery, on Valentine’s Day 2012, made headlines because the culprits wore masks that were so realistic that the employees in the building didn’t realize they were masks.
On Friday the men stood before a judge for sentencing. Two dozen family members and friends watched from the benches in the back of the courtroom. There were tears and shaking heads and blown kisses. There was much sadness and little hope. The crimes the men were convicted for carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 32 years in prison and the only question at this hearing was whether the men would get more than that.
They did not get more than that. In fact, Judge Raymond Dearie would have very much liked to give them less time but there was nothing he could do. This 32-year-punishment was “a very significant sentence,” Drearie said. “I’m uncomfortable with it, frankly.”
He didn’t deny the seriousness of the crimes. For one of the robberies, in February 2010, a man broke into the Pay-O-Matic through the ceiling while another man stood in the lobby with a gun, and a third man stood watch outside. The men hid their faces with cloth masks. When the teller–the lone employee on the overnight shift–explained that he didn’t have the key to the safe, the man who came through the ceiling beat him with a metal chair before leaving with $40,000 from the drawers beneath the counters.
The other robbery, in February 2012, began when three men approached a teller as she arrived for work in the Pay-O-Matic parking lot. She described them as white males, one bald and two in hats. They wore police badges and jackets bearing NYPD logos. They showed her a photo of her home and then held her and her co-worker at gun point as they emptied the safe.
Drearie also said that he believed the evidence was convincing. The robbers had left the photo of the house at the scene. Information on the back of the photo led investigators to a Walgreen’s and a receipt with Byam’s name and phone number on it. The records of Composite Effects, a high-quality mask company, showed that Byam purchased three masks in November 2011 and had them shipped to a residence leased to Monsalvatge’s wife. Monsalvatge’s DNA was found on handcuff’s the robbers left on the teller in the 2010 incident. Dunkley’s DNA was found on a crowbar at the scene of an attempted break in on the roof of a cash checking outlet in April 2010. And phone records showed that the three men exchanged dozens of calls in the days following each of the robberies. (Monsalvatge, Byam, and Dunkley maintain their innocence and plan to appeal.)
To Drearie, however, the sentence was disproportionate–“severe” and “well beyond what is needed.” He noted that all three men had consistent employment throughout their adult lives and supportive loved ones around them.
“It’s a tragedy because each of you showed in your personal history tremendous potential,” the judge said. He gazed toward the faces in the back. “These are genuine, good people. I’ve read their letters. Every single day they will feel that loss.”
Dunkley is 26-years-old. Byam, also 26, has an eight-year-old son. Monslavatge, 38, has a wife, a 12-year-old daughter, and a one-year-old daughter.