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Serial bank robber sentenced to 10 years in prison

A career criminal arrested after a spree of five bank robbery attempts was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to the banks.

“I’m very sorry for robbing all the banks,” Joseph A. Licata, 45, told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara during the hearing.

The judge sentenced Licata on his guilty plea to a single count of bank robbery.

Licata, who has spent most of his adult life in prison, said he would use his next stint in custody dealing with mental health issues that have plagued him since his teenage years.

“I have a serious problem,” Licata told the judge. “I have failed a lot, your honor. I’m sorry.”

Licata asked the judge to send him to a prison that could provide him with counseling and medical treatment, and he promised to take advantage of that help, which he did not do during his previous incarcerations.

“I know I can do it,” he said of dealing with his mental health issues. “I really want to make it different.”

Licata said he has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder as well as physical ailments. He said he still suffers from nightmares, and he traced his mental problems to his troubled childhood.

Brian P. Comerford, Licata’s defense lawyer, said Licata has made significant progress dealing with his mental health issues while in custody in the Erie County Holding Center.

“He’s finally on meds that help him think clearly about what’s going on in his life,” Comerford said in court.

With strict post-release supervision to make sure he is taking appropriate medication, “he could be OK,” Comerford said.

The 10-year sentence was longer than the eight years Comerford requested, but slightly below the minimum length in sentencing guidelines.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Arcara said Licata appeared remorseful and, for the first time, admitted his mental health issues.

While Licata has a lengthy criminal record, “he is trying to make an effort,” Arcara said.

Licata’s comments indicating he wants to be a better person made an impression with the judge.

“Don’t forget what you said here today,” Arcara told Licata as the defendant was led from the courtroom.

Before his arrest on the bank robbery attempts, Licata had 15 prior criminal convictions, including for robbery and burglary, and had just been paroled after serving a three-to-seven-year state prison term in a 2005 robbery case.

After the robbery spree in the last week of November 2010, he was arrested by Town of Tonawanda police after he got out of a taxi outside a Grand Island Boulevard motel. Buffalo police relayed information from a tip call they received. His sister had called police to give them his name after they released a photo of the serial bank robber.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael L. McCabe, who handled the case, reminded the judge that Licata has had chances before to deal with his psychological issues.

“He’s had opportunities in the past, your honor, and every time he’s rejected them,” McCabe said.

For a seven-day stretch, Licata inflicted fear among tellers at the banks, McCabe said.

During two of his holdups, he passed a note in which he threatened he had a gun but never showed it.

Licata was implicated in robberies or attempted robberies at five banks: an M&T Bank branch at 130 Grant St.; a KeyBank branch at 52 Amherst St.; a Bank of America branch at 495 Elmwood Ave.; an HSBC Bank branch at 529 Elmwood Ave.; and a Bank of America branch at 1171 E. Delavan Ave.