Public Safety

Waterloo man sentenced to 3 years for crime spree involving crashing stolen vehicles into banks, ATM machines

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Waterloo man was sentenced Thursday to serve time in federal prison for a crime spree targeting cash machines by using forklifts and crashing stolen cars into credit unions and convenience stores last year.

John F. Bennett, 48, pleaded guilty last November in U.S. District Court to one count each of aiding and abetting credit union burglary and aiding and abetting credit union larceny.

U.S. District Chief Judge Leonard Strand sentenced Bennett to over three years in prison.

Bennett’s co-defendant and nephew, Cody J. Laughlin, 26, of Gilbertville, was sentenced Wednesday on the same charges to over two years in prison.

Criminal complaints show both men broke into the Dupaco Credit Union and a drive-up ATM machine from the University of Iowa Community Credit Union in attempts to steal a cash machine or money from the machines in May 2017.

Authorities said Bennett and Laughlin crashed stolen vehicles into three conveniences stores during the spree to smash and grab cash machines.

Court documents show during the Dupaco theft, they crashed a truck into a door and then left. They returned, when police didn’t arrive, and hooked a chain to one cash machine that contained $85,000 and tried to pull it out of the building.

Bennett took a forklift from a nearby construction site to load the ATM at the other credit union onto a vehicle, according to court documents. That machine contained $57,657.

Police said one of the stolen vehicles was later set on fire and others were pushed into the Cedar River at the Gilbertville boat ramp.

During Thursday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Williams asked the judge to sentence Bennett to the top of the guideline range - 46 months – because it resulted in over $200,000 in damages that affected multiple victims.

“This was series of real significant criminal activity,” Williams said during the hearing. “He stole vehicles, as well as cash machines.”

Williams also pointed out Bennett’s lengthy criminal history that began as a youth.

Strand noted Bennett had done prison time for manufacturing methamphetamine and in 2014 was convicted of domestic abuse that involved strangulation of a victim.

Bennett, during the hearing, apologized to all the victims, his wife and other family members. He said his goal was to pay restitution and hopes he can “achieve forgiveness someday.”

In apologizing to his wife, Bennett admitted he committed the offenses because of his failing business, which was due to his “bad management decisions.” He also promised to work on their marriage and his substance abuse problem.

Strand, who called this “an obnoxious and egregious crime spree,” sentenced Bennett to 46 months in prison. He also ordered him to pay $217,477 in victims’ restitution, which Laughlin is also jointly responsible to pay.

Bennett’s sentence will run concurrently with a related pending case in state court and one in Missouri.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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