LINCOLN, Neb. — A Montana man dubbed the AK-47 bandit and accused of holding up banks in several states over a five-year period has been sentenced in a Nebraska federal court to 35 years in prison.
Richard Gathercole, 41, of Roundup, received the maximum sentence Wednesday in a federal courthouse in Lincoln, Nebraska, after pleading guilty in March to bank robbery. Gathercole admitted during that plea hearing to using an AK-47 to rob a Nebraska City bank of more than $90,000 in 2014. Gathercole also pleaded guilty to the June 2017 carjacking of a farmer in Kansas that led to his arrest the same day in Lexington, Nebraska. Gathercole was one of the most wanted bank robbers in the nation at the time of his arrest, accused of a string of bank robberies in California, Idaho, Iowa and Washington state from 2012 to 2017.
Before his arrest, the FBI had been looking for years for the man they called the "AK-47 Bandit," who typically wore a balaclava and carried an assault rifle with a drum magazine during the robberies. Investigators believe Gathercole robbed a string of California banks early in his string of crimes, the first being the robbery on Feb. 29, 2012, of a bank in Chino, California. During the robbery, investigators say Gathercole shot a Chino police officer. The bullet struck the officer's femoral artery and shattered his femur, ending his law enforcement career.
Prosecutors say that aside from the assault weapon he carried during the robberies, Gathercole showed a pattern of threatening violence during the robberies. He usually threatened to kill bank employees and sometimes would place what appeared to be a bomb near bank employees, warning that it could go off inside the bank. Authorities say Gathercole would sometimes wear a bullet proof vest that was marked "Sheriff" or "Police" during the robberies.
After his arrest, federal agents found homemade bombs, guns and ammunition, sheriff's badges and patches and a sheriff's vest in Gathercole's home.
As part of his plea deal, Gathercole won't be prosecuted by other jurisdictions for other violent crimes, including shooting at a Kansas state trooper in 2017.
Some of the crimes had passed the five-year federal statute of limitations.