Judge grants reduced sentence to SF bank robber who defense says was ‘stoned out of his mind’ during offense

SAN FRANCISCO — A Bay Area man who last April entered two San Francisco banks — maskless during the COVID-19 pandemic — and proceeded to rob them was sentenced to three years and six months in federal prison last week after making a tearful plea for mercy in court.

Benjamin Chase, 39, could have been sentenced to nearly twice what he received — prosecutors asked for a 77-month term — but U.S. District Judge Edward Chen granted the reduced prison term after noting that Chase had spent the first 29 years of his life without getting into legal trouble. For much of his adult life, Chase worked for a “prestigious San Francisco law firm” but developed a drug addiction after a “series of tragedies” led to him being prescribed Xanax and pain medication, his attorney wrote in court filings.

“I think Mr. Chase has demonstrated he’s capable of being law abiding and he was for 29 years … that doesn’t excuse the behavior,” Chen said in court last week.

Chase was “stoned out of his mind” when he entered the East West Bank on Irving Street in San Francisco and handed the teller a note claiming he had a gun on April 15, and two days later when he entered the Bank of the Orient on 6th Avenue and did the same thing, his attorney wrote in court filings. Ironically, while the second robbery occurred on the day San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a citywide mask mandate due to the pandemic, Chase didn’t make any efforts to hide his face in either incident.

In court, Chase made an emotional apology, pausing in between sobs as he explained that his goal in the robbery was to make enough money to overdose and die by suicide. He acknowledged he “deserves to be punished” and apologized for both crimes.

“I spent almost two weeks almost outside before I committed that first bank robbery,” Chase said in court. “That doesn’t make it ok, I just want to address the depths of my desperation at that point.”

Prosecutors, in court filings, said Chase had committed a string of commercial burglaries around the same time as the robberies.

“In executing these crimes, Chase threatened members of the community, particularly bank tellers and bank employees, who are risking their health by attempting to serve their community during this pandemic,” assistant U.S. Attorney Kristina Green wrote in a sentencing memo.

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Author: Nate Gartrell