Friends and family describe Port Townsend's Michael John Fenter as an honest, gentle farmer who doted on his three children.
Prosecutors and witnesses describe Fenter, 40, as a sophisticated terrorist who used bomb threats to rob four West Coast banks, including one in downtown Tacoma last year.
Fenter was sentenced Monday in federal court to 10 years in prison for robbing banks in Seattle, San Francisco, Sacramento and Tacoma from February to October 2009. He pleaded guilty in March to four counts of bank robbery and one count of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.
U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle also sentenced Fenter to five years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $86,000 in restitution.
About a dozen of Fenter’s relatives and friends attended the proceedings, including his wife of more than 20 years, Kateen. The couple knew each other as kids in Oregon and ran a 40-acre organic farm in Port Townsend.
Prosecutor Jerry Costello argued that Fenter carefully planned the robberies, telling bank employees that he had a bomb and would detonate it if tellers called police. When Fenter was arrested in Tacoma on Oct. 8 after leaving a Bank of America branch at 101 S. Ninth St., police found on him a bag containing $73,000, a loaded .40-caliber handgun and an unwired explosive device with commercial-grade blasting cap and battery.
Fenter had even put glue on his fingertips to avoid leaving fingerprints , Costello said. “Violent crimes became a part of who the defendant is.”
Susan Bungert, the Tacoma bank manager in the Oct. 8 robbery, called Fenter a “terrorist” during her testimony. “He’s not man enough to get a job like the rest of society,” she said. “What kind of example is he giving his family?”
Since the robbery, Bungert added, bank clients with briefcases or backpacks automatically set her on edge. She has nightmares. “He terrorized my staff,” she said. “He needs to live in fear.”
Defense attorney Timothy Lohraff noted that his client had no previous criminal history and that the string of robberies was an anomaly. “When you look at his life and his background, it was very much aberrant behavior.”
Fenter’s supporters sent at least 17 letters to the court vouching for his character. They called him gracious , hard-working, a role model who once moved his family to Colorado to help build a church.
Settle said during sentencing that he had difficulty reconciling Fenter the farmer with Fenter the bank robber. “This is one of the most perplexing cases I’ve had,” he said.
Fenter, dressed in a drab green button-up shirt and khakis, addressed the court in a deep, steady voice. His close-cropped brown hair had a touch of gray.
“I knew going into this I would be facing very serious consequences,” he said, but “I honestly did not know how this would impact people.”
Fenter said that at the time of the crimes, he considered himself a true “patriot.” He added, cryptically, that the $86,200 in stolen cash “has been used in peaceful ways. … that money was used to get to the truth.”