A Michigan woman pleaded not guilty Monday to federal bank robbery charges stemming from a handful of Southland heists, including one attempted bank robbery in Baldwin Park.
Obiomachucku Njokanma, 37, entered her plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge
Carla Woehrle, who set a March 26 trial date.
Njokanma is charged with robbing or attempting to rob eight banks in Los Angeles County between Dec. 28 and Jan. 12.
The defendant told Los Angeles police and FBI investigators that the Southland robbery spree was sparked by the murder of her sister, according to an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint in the case.
"Njokanma repeatedly apologized for committing the bank robberies,'' FBI Special Agent Glenn F. Solomon-Hill wrote in the affidavit. "She explained that her sister was recently discovered murdered in Modesto ... (and) admitted that the very first bank she robbed was in Modesto."
Court papers allege Njokanma handed notes to bank tellers demanding large denomination bills and threatening to shoot them or others in the bank if they did not quickly comply.
In some cases, the robber, who often disguised herself by wearing either a baseball cap or a wig, allegedly told tellers that she wanted to be gone in "60 seconds or less.''
The crimes apparently began on Dec. 27 in Stanislaus County, when Njokanma allegedly robbed a bank in Modesto, where her sister, 28-year-old Eldoris Graham, was later found murdered, according to court papers. Njokanma was not charged in the Modesto heist.
Graham went missing in mid-December, and her body was found Jan. 11, according to media reports. There have been no arrests so far, but Modesto police declared Graham's boyfriend a suspect.
Njokanma's federal public defender, Peter Langdon Arian, declined comment.
Njokanma is been charged with robberies at a U.S. Bank in Bell on Jan. 4; Foothill Federal Credit Union in Arcadia, also on Jan. 4; First Financial Credit Union in Los Angeles on Jan. 9; Bank of the West in Temple City on Jan. 10; and at Citibank in Los Angeles on Jan. 12, along with attempted heists at Wells Fargo Bank in Los Angeles on Jan. 8 and at another Wells Fargo branch in Baldwin Park on Jan. 10.
In all, Njokanma's alleged robberies netted around $20,000, according to prosecutors.
She was arrested by Los Angeles police on Jan. 14 at an apartment complex on Santa Monica Boulevard, after a telephone tip, authorities said.
Njokanma is being held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center, adjacent to the courthouse, pending trial.