Ex-New Mexico police informant headed to prison after admitting 5 bank robberies to feed addiction

Jul 28, 2023, 10:01 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico man who confessed to five bank robberies in Albuquerque last year — including one bank he robbed twice as part of what he said were desperate attempts to feed his fentanyl addiction — has been sentenced to more than two years in prison.

Jason Smeltzer, 41, made off with less than $4,000 total from the the five robberies, which took place within 6 miles (10 kilometers) of each other over five weeks in early 2022, court records show.

Each time, the unarmed Albuquerque man who once served as a confidential informant for the city’s police handed notes to tellers claiming he was a vigilante helping law enforcement and asking that they “please” place bills in an envelope, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

Assistant federal public defender Dennis Candelaria had argued Smeltzer be sentenced to only 18 months in prison partly because he had no adult criminal record, a lengthy work history and was actively involved in many community activities. He said Smeltzer had been suffering from a drug addiction for years trying to ease pain from an injured knee and that he was committed to rehabilitation.

In addition to being a confidential police informant, Candelaria said Smeltzer had participated in the FBI program for cyber security. He didn’t provide any additional details.

“Fentanyl took total control of his life,” Candelaria wrote in a pre-sentencing document.

“In many ways, Mr. Smeltzer is the typical bank robber. He is robbing a bank to buy drugs for his addiction. However, unlike the typical bank robber, we can look past his actions and see an individual that never intended to harm anyone,” Candelaria said.

Smeltzer “committed each of these bank robberies by passing a note and requesting the teller to ‘please’ place money in an envelope,” he said.

From Jan. 20-Feb. 23, 2022, Smeltzer stole a total of $3,856 from the four banks on the city’s northeast side, including just $136 from one. The most was $1,180 the second time he robbed the same credit union on San Mateo Boulevard in mid-February.

Acting on a call to a national tip line, FBI agents and police arrested him leaving his Albuquerque home in a car with his mother hours after the final robbery on Feb. 23.

An FBI agent said in an affidavit that Smeltzer confessed to all of the crimes and told authorities he was using the money to buy drugs for his fentanyl addiction.

“He also advised Agents he wrote the demands notes and he always asked for money politely,” the agent wrote in the affidavit last year.

In one case, the note he handed a teller claimed “I am that vigilante that helps law enforcement take down drug dealers.” Another said he was a vigilante “helping the police catch drug dealers and stop overdoses,” according to court documents.

The latter also said, “Thank you, truly I am grateful. I will repay.”

Smeltzer pleaded guilty to five counts of bank robbery on March 22. On July 18, U.S District Judge Judith C. Herrera sentenced him to 27 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

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Ex-New Mexico police informant headed to prison after admitting 5 bank robberies to feed addiction