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'River Rat' driver sentenced to 18 years for bank robberies

Half of the 'River Rat' bandit pair was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for his role in four Portland-area bank robberies.

Travis Lee Oles, 36, of Portland plead guilty to four counts of bank robbery Thursday. Senior District Court Judge Robert E. Jones sentenced Oles to 216 months in U.S. District Court.

Oles planned the robberies and drove the getaway vehicle after his accomplice, Alexey Perez-Hernandez, robbed the banks while armed with a handgun. Oles, who had no previous criminal history, was operating two Beaverton-area pizza franchises that were not profitable, and used money from the robberies to finance his business.

The four Portland-area robberies took a total of $24,976.41. The robberies were Aug. 7, 2009, Columbia State Bank on Northeast Halsey Street; Aug. 19, 2009, Riverview Community Bank on Northeast Halsey Street; Aug. 26, 2009, Riverview Community Bank on Northeast Halsey Street; Sept. 8, 2009, Albina Community Bank on Northeast Sandy Boulevard.

Oles is also charged with five similar robberies in Clark County, Wash. Perez-Hernandez is scheduled for a jury trial on July 5.

Scooping up cash

The River Rat Bandit, dubbed that by the FBI, was two people accused of at least 18 robberies of banks and check-cashing businesses between August and October 2009 along Interstate 5 between Portland and Tacoma. The bandits earned their nickname by robbing businesses on both sides of the Columbia River.

Perez-Hernandez was arrested in early October 2009 in Pierce County, Wash., when a fingerprint left during the Sept. 14 robbery of a Kent, Wash., cash advance store led police to him. Oles was arrested a day later during a Northeast Portland traffic stop.

In each of the robberies, the River Rat Bandit struck quickly, usually taking only a couple minutes to jump over the tellers' counter, scoop up cash, force employees into another room - often a bathroom - and then fleeing in either a silver sports car or a black pickup driven by another person.

Almost every victim of the bandit said he wore latex gloves, carried a black revolver and sometimes carried away cash in one of those recyclable grocery bags purchased for 99 cents from a local department store chain. Many people who were robbed said they recognized the River Rat from photos shown on television, in newspapers and on the Web.

According to Clark County, Wash., court records, Oles and Perez-Hernandez met while working in a Lakewood, Wash., casino. They apparently needed the money to cover their business debts, according to court records.