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Bank robbery suspect to be charged in White Oak gas station heist

| Friday, June 20, 2014, 3:46 a.m.

A Munhall man arrested for his alleged role in a North Huntingdon Township bank robbery awaits additional charges in connection with the robbery of a White Oak gas station.

Police said Richard P. Thomas Jr., 38, told them he robbed the Sunoco along West Fifth and Pennsylvania avenues near the McKeesport and North Versailles Township line on Tuesday — the same station he admitted holding up 10 years ago.

White Oak police Chief Lou Bender said charges will be filed “within the next couple days” against Thomas.

“He was cooperative with us and Detective (Mark) Bushik, and Detective Bushik was able to obtain a full confession from him for the robbery,” Bender said.

Thomas is in Westmoreland County Prison in lieu of $250,000 bond on robbery, theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property in Saturday's holdup of First National Bank in the Circleville area of North Huntingdon.

Thomas surrendered to North Huntingdon police on Wednesday. He was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Douglas R. Weimer Jr., whose Clay Pike courtroom is just around the corner from the First National Bank along Robbins Station Road.

“North Huntingdon did a good job in getting him off the street and that enabled the other departments to follow up on the incidents in our area,” Bender said.

North Huntingdon Chief Andrew Lisiecki said those incidents included the White Oak robbery and a carjacking in Clairton. Thomas allegedly used the Clairton vehicle for the Circleville bank robbery.

Thomas is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in the Circleville case on July 2 at 10 a.m. before Magisterial District Judge Jason Buczak in Washington Township, on charges similar to what's pending in White Oak.

“I anticipate that he will be charged with robbery, theft and receiving stolen property,” Bender said. “He robbed the same Sunoco in 2004.”

On Sept. 6, 2004, then-White Oak Chief Joe Hoffman said a white male threatened a clerk there, demonstrating that he may have had a gun in his pocket. Bender said Thomas inferred he had a gun when he held up the Sunoco on Tuesday.

No injuries were reported in the 2004 holdup and Thomas was arrested a month later.

“We worked with police from Elizabeth Township, McKeesport and Monroeville on this one,” Hoffman said. Thomas was charged with robberies in those municipalities as well.

On Aug. 25, 2005, Thomas pleaded guilty to robbery charges before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, who sentenced Thomas to 2½ years in prison and five years of probation. The Allegheny County district attorney's office withdrew all other charges.

The Sunoco at the corner of West Fifth and Pennsylvania has had its share of problems.

“It's been hit several times over the past several years,” Bender said. “Fortunately we've been able to make arrests on most of the robberies that occurred there.”

In April, Jeffrey T. Betters, 45, of Elizabeth Township pleaded guilty to robbing that Sunoco on July 29, 2013, and Sunoco Joe's along Walnut Street in McKeesport on July 30.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani sentenced Betters to eight to 20 years in prison, minus nearly a year already served, and ordered him to pay $572.60 in restitution, $372.60 to the Sunoco in White Oak and $200 to Sunoco Joe's.

Thomas has another case upcoming. He was cited by McKeesport police on May 24 at 1:22 a.m. during a traffic stop along Jenny Lind and Scott streets for possession of drug paraphernalia and a car light violation. He is scheduled for a hearing on that offense on July 14 at 8:30 a.m. before Magisterial District Judge Eugene F. Riazzi Jr.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.