EAGLE — An Eagle County judge on Wednesday sentenced a Basalt man who said he was in such “desperate” financial straits that he twice robbed an El Jebel bank within a matter of months to a six-year term in a Durango halfway house.
Jeremy Harmon, 38, said he and his family were hours away from being evicted from the Glenwood Springs home they were renting when he decided to rob the Vectra Bank near Movieland on March 2.
Saying he was at “a complete loss of what to do,” Harmon disguised himself in ski garb, handed a teller a note demanding money and escaped on foot with an undisclosed amount of cash that he used to pay his rent.
His father and the teller who Harmon twice held up also spoke at the emotional hearing.
The bank employee told Judge Thomas Moorhead of Eagle County District Court that she is in therapy and still suffers anxiety, especially when bank customers enter wearing a hoodie sweatshirt or sunglasses.
“At the time I was robbed, I was in the midst of a horrible divorce from an abusive man,” she said. “It wasn’t going well, and when I was robbed it pretty much put me over the top.”
In response to a question from Moorhead, she said that while she doesn’t have post-traumatic stress disorder, she had “a lot of pain and stress in my life, and he added to that.”
She added that she had mixed emotions about whether Harmon should be sentenced to prison. Part of her does want that, but she also wants Harmon to be able to keep his family together and receive counseling, she told Moorhead.
On March 2, she was the only teller working and the only one impacted by the crime, the woman said. But when Harmon robbed the bank, and her, again on June 22, customers, one woman in particular, and employees were shaken “quite a bit,” the employee said.
The Vectra Bank is within the Basalt town limits, and the bank robberies were the first in the community’s history, said Basalt police Sgt. Penny Paxton.
The crimes rattled Basalt residents, she said.
“A bank robbery is a big deal, and it was for our community,” Paxton said. “We had a lot of afraid people.”
On Tuesday, the Town Council gave the police department a proclamation for solving the robberies, something that Paxton said couldn’t have happened without the help of law enforcement in Aspen and Pitkin County.
A witness in the June crime told police that the suspect, wearing a white T-shirt and tan pants, ran across Highway 82 to the El Jebel Plaza shopping center and got into a white Ford truck with ladders on it. The owners of El Jebel Plaza across Highway 82 from where the bank is located provided a still image to police of a man driving off in a white truck. The footage was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the valley.
Less than an hour after the bank robbery, 911 dispatcher Brandon March, who was off duty at the time, spotted Harmon in a truck that matched the one in the surveillance photo. His wife, Aspen police officer Vanessa March, saw the vehicle near the Aspen airport and called for back up, Basalt police Sgt. Stu Curry said at the time.
Harmon was brought to the Aspen Police Department for questioning, and was released after he told Curry that he was “nowhere near Vectra Bank” at the time of the robbery, a police report says. But he also told Curry that about an hour before the crime, he had been in the parking lot of the Bella Mia restaurant in the El Jebel Plaza. He said he had been making calls on his cell phone, the report says.
Basalt police later that day obtained a warrant for Harmon’s arrest, and he turned himself in.
Prosecutor John Franks said a prison sentence might have been warranted, but he noted that Harmon neither used a weapon nor intimated that he had one with him during the robberies.
Franks’ predecessor reached a “global” plea agreement with Harmon’s attorney, Jesse Wiens of Avon, that saw the defendant plead guilty in November to felony robbery. Harmon admitted culpability to the Vectra Bank crimes and to twice robbing a Glenwood Springs cash-checking business, and prosecutors agreed not pursue the latter incidents. Those robberies, which occurred in 2011 and 2012 and involved the since-closed Check Into Cash business, were not mentioned Wednesday.
Franks said he agreed with his predecessor’s recommendation for a halfway house setting, also known as community corrections.
Wiens sought probation for his client, also citing the fact that no weapon was used and Harmon’s lack of a criminal history. He begged Moorhead to allow Harmon to remain in the community so he could keep working to support his family and pay restitution.
Harmon’s father told Moorhead that his son, who now lives with him at his home on Basalt Mountain, gave little indication about his financial hardships. The father said he runs a small property management company for second-home owners.
When Harmon returned to the valley from Hawaii and began working for the business, the recession hit.
“Things got extremely tight for us, and we had less and less work,” the father said.
But no one in the family realized how dire Harmon’s finances were, a dynamic the father said has since changed.
“Everybody in the family know what’s going on” now, he said, his voice wavering.
Harmon, reading from a written statement, apologized to the bank employee, saying that he knew his actions would affect her “to a certain extent. I didn’t realize how much.
“She shouldn’t be fearful about going to her job where she’s trying to earn a living,” he said.
Harmon said he and his wife had a baby two months before the first robbery. His wife had a difficult pregnancy that left her unable to work.
With two other young children, “we were left with one income, and it was a rocky income at that,” he said. “I was feeling so desperate, I didn’t know what else to do. ... I was just trying to keep my family off the street.”
Moorhead said that, in sentencing Harmon, he had to consider the magnitude of the behavior, “and it’s very significant.” Moorhead said he also had to factor in the Basalt community.
“There are certain activities that demand a certain result,” he said.
After hearing that the Hilltop House, a state community corrections facility in Durango, will have a bed available in early February, Moorhead sentenced him to six years there. Hilltop functions as a halfway house, allowing convicts to work in the area. They must reside at the facility for a certain amount of hours daily, and Moorhead said Harmon would go directly to prison if he’s ejected from Hilltop.
With good behavior, Franks said Harmon could gain nonresidential status in six to nine months, though he may have to continue to live in the Durango area.
Moorhead tasked Harmon’s father with driving him to the Hilltop House when the bed becomes available. He said he based his sentence largely on the statements by Harmon and his father. Harmon also must pay $3,750 in restitution, which was the amount taken in the second robbery; it’s unclear how much he stole in the first crime.
“You will be able to walk out of here today, which, under the circumstances, is significant,” Moorhead said.