LOCKPORT – A Buffalo man pleaded guilty Wednesday in Niagara County Court to robbing a Niagara Falls bank Aug. 6, but he faces a more severe fate in U.S. District Court.
Ronald McClendon II, 27, of Potomac Avenue, admitted to a reduced charge of attempted third-degree robbery in connection with a holdup at the Bank of America branch on Military Road in the Falls.
County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas promised to sentence McClendon Aug. 20 to no more than 1½ to three years in prison and said she will make the sentence run concurrently with an anticipated sentence in federal court for two Buffalo bank heists last July.
Defense attorney Dominic Saraceno said he expects McClendon will face about seven years in a federal prison once he pleads guilty in Buffalo.
Farkas at first refused to accept the plea deal because it looked to her as if McClendon’s “body language” betrayed a reluctance to plead guilty.
Saraceno said it was because McClendon thought “an uncharged co-defendant” should be facing the music, too.
“Is that the one who’s facing 20 years for 13 robberies?” Farkas asked, referring to Michael Mitchell of Buffalo. Saraceno said that was the person McClendon thought should be charged in the Bank of America case.
Federal prosecutors in January accused Mitchell, 21, of leading a robbery ring that the FBI believed accounted for 26 bank robberies between Niagara Falls and Lackawanna over an eight-month period last year. He was arrested Jan. 15.
Mitchell was accused of forcing others to carry out the actual robberies.
Allen Strain, 27, of Central Avenue, Buffalo, was arrested at the scene of the Bank of America holdup in the Falls. He handed a teller a note claiming falsely that he had a gun and demanding money. The teller activated a silent alarm and Falls police arrived in time to capture him.
In an Aug. 28 bail hearing before Farkas, the judge learned that Strain had told the teller he didn’t want to rob the bank but was being forced to do so. Farkas released Strain without bail.