Bruce Allen Hughes, dubbed the "Crown Royal Bandit" for using a purple velvet Crown Royal whiskey bag to haul off his loot, told U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story and prosecutors that they had only scratched the surface of his career record.
The 48-year-old Blairsville man said he had been robbing banks since he was 17 as he pleaded guilty Friday to bank robbery, conspiracy and firearm charges. He faces up to 175 years in prison.
The 29 robberies authorities know about netted the bandit more than $300,000.
The last holdup was Feb. 21, 2008, at the Prince Avenue branch of Regions Bank in Athens.
Federal, state and local authorities worked more than a decade before they "tied a bunch of strings together into a solid path that led to the defendant," said Matt Jackson, an assistant U.S. attorney - who was in college when Hughes robbed the first bank listed on his indictment.
Hughes' longtime partner, lookout, getaway driver and the mother of his children, Karen Totherow, pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge in December.
Christine Verner, Hughes' girlfriend and getaway car driver in the Athens heist, has pleaded guilty to a single count of bank robbery.
Neither woman has been sentenced, according to court documents. A sentencing date for Hughes has not been set, either.
Hughes told the judge on Friday that he was pleading guilty to all of the charges filed against him in hopes that Story would show leniency in sentencing Totherow. The judge offered no guarantee.
"I have in fact been robbing banks since I was 17, and the influence I had over (Totherow) is not her fault," said Hughes, a well-spoken, gray-haired man with dark-rimmed glasses.
Hughes called Totherow his "bird dog," Jackson said. She would go into banks posing as a customer and find out if the bank had an armed guard or other obstacles to successful robbery, he said.
While Totherow benefited from the robberies during their decade together, she had to be manipulated, threatened and cajoled into participating in them, said Daniel Summer, her attorney.
"She was pretty much a victim in this case, just like all of the tellers and all of the customers," Summer said. "She was a victim who was coerced into participating in them."
Totherow did not play a role in Hughes' final robbery in February 2008, but his new girlfriend, Verner, did.
Verner's arrest on a methamphetamine-trafficking charges after the February 2008 robbery led federal investigators straight to the Crown Royal Bandit.
The FBI had compiled dozens of surveillance photographs and videos between 1997 and 2008, but the robber's face was always hidden.
In the Athens robbery, witnesses saw the man without a mask before and after the robbery - as well as a pickup belonging to Verner - and helped a Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic artist make a sketch.
A reader saw that sketch in the Feb. 26, 2008, edition of the Athens Banner-Herald and called police to say the drawing resembled Hughes, officials said.
Authorities still didn't know where to find Hughes until three days later, when someone called the Madison County Jail to tell authorities that Verner was living with a bank robber in a mobile home on Beverly Road in Hull.
Verner told police that Hughes bragged about what a good bank robber he was - never leaving fingerprints behind despite the fact that he never wore gloves. She told them that they had gone out for a celebratory dinner and shopping spree at Wal-Mart after the heist in Athens, Jackson told the court.
That final robbery netted Hughes about $10,000, he said.
Hughes knew that police were coming for him after Verner was arrested, and he decided to let them take him into custody on March 5, 2008, he told the court.
Story did not set a sentencing date Friday, but Hughes most likely will spend the rest of his life in prison, according to sentencing guidelines from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Hughes asked Story to take into consideration the fact that no one ever was injured in any of his robberies.
"I have been robbing banks since I was 17 and no one has ever been hurt," Hughes said. "There was something looking over me, because I never even had a close call. ... It would have been hard for me to live it down if somebody did get hurt."
While no one was hurt, lots of people were traumatized - and he did carry a loaded gun, Jackson said.