The woman convicted of robbing three banks, including one inside the Jewel food store in North Riverside in February, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison by Judge David H. Coar on Dec. 6.
Phelicia M. Van, 29, remains at the Metropolitan Correction Center in Chicago, where she has been since her arrest by the FBI in March. She was charged with three bank robberies between January and March. Two of those robberies occurred at TCF Bank branches inside Jewel stores in Stickney and North Riverside.
She pleaded guilty in June and awaited sentencing while her attorney argued for leniency from Judge Coar. Van faced up to 13 years in prison.
The judge’s sentence appears to indicate he was at least partially convinced that the circumstances of Van’s life deserved some consideration.
In a court filing on Nov. 30, Sergio F. Rodriguez, an attorney with the Federal Defender Program, argued for a sentence of no more than 10 years for his client based on what he called “Phelicia’s tragic family background.”
Van, said Rodriguez, suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father and escaped her family situation “by marrying her one-time babysitter at an early age and have three children with him.”
According to court documents, the relationship with her babysitter began when Van was 14 and the babysitter was 21; by 15 she had her first child. After the man died in a car accident, Van took up with “another abusive man.”
“That relationship,” according to Rodriguez, “was so toxic that it eventually made it as an episode on the television program, “Divorce Court.” Rodriguez also stated that the man was “at least in part responsible for coercing Ms. Van” into committing a series of bank robberies in 2007.
Van was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. She served less than two years of that sentence before being released in August 2009. Van’s personal history was cited by the judge in that case as a reason for giving her a lighter sentence.
During the seven months that followed her release in 2009, Van lived at homeless shelters and with acquaintances and looked for work. Her children are wards of the state.
In a letter to Judge Coar, which is part of the court record, Van wrote, “With no family, no money and living from house to house suffering abuse from men so much like my father just to have a roof over my head, I gave up! I was at the point where I wanted the police to either kill me or put me back in jail. In my mind, anything was better than living the way I was.”
On Feb. 11, Van walked up to the counter at the TCF Bank branch inside Jewel at 7201 24th St. in North Riverside and handed the teller a note indicating she had a gun and demanding money. She made off with $2,950.
In the three robberies between January and March, Van stole more than $4,400, which she has been ordered to repay as part of her sentence. After her release from federal prison, Van will be on court-ordered supervision for three years.