'Sentencing you is one of the most painful things I've ever had to do,' judge tells remorseful bank robber

Judge rejects convicted bank teller's bid to be released on bail pending appeal

A remorseful young bank robber in Calgary has been invited to check in with the judge who sentenced him to prison after he serves his time.

"Mr. [Saleem] Nasery, sentencing you was one of the most painful things I've ever had to do," said Court of Queen's Bench Justice David Gates. "You are a man of great promise, great potential.

"When you finish your sentence, I'd like you to come see me, I'd like to know how you're doing."

Last month, Nasery pleaded guilty to robbery with a firearm, forcible confinement and wearing a disguise.

Nasery and three others — all of whom have also pleaded guilty — robbed the BMO in the southwest community of the Mission neighbourhood in November 2014. 

Prosecutors Vicki Faulkner and Ryan Jenkins, as well as Nasery's defence lawyer Pat Fagan, made a joint submission for a six-year prison sentence at a hearing last week.

On Tuesday, Gates accepted that submission but with credit for the time Nasery spent under house arrest and in custody, leaving five and a half years left to serve. 

Court heard Nasery has been volunteering and received a degree in the time since the robbery.

'Not who I am'

When given the opportunity to address the court last week, Nasery, 24, apologized to his victims — the bank employees who were held hostage. 

"That's not who I am," he said. "I'm sorry for ruining their lives."

Gates asked Nasery's parents — who had been sitting in the gallery — for some background on the family. His father told the judge he'd moved to Canada from Afghanistan in the 1980s. 

When the judge learned Nasery's father not only had to redo the schooling he'd already completed in Afghanistan but had recently lost his oil and gas job in the recession and was driving a taxi to make ends meet, he expressed his sympathy.

"It's not an unfamiliar experience of people coming to this country with unrecognized experience," Gates said.

A tearful goodbye

Nasery was taken into custody after lawyers made their submissions last week. Before sheriffs took him to the Calgary Remand Centre, Nasery shared a tearful embrace with his parents, grandmother and little brother.

Kenza Belakziz, 22, who worked at the BMO as a teller, was dating Nasery in November 2014 when she provided confidential information to the three men so they could pull off the heist.

Belakziz had given Nasery a list of employees who would be present during the robbery, the layout of the bank, information about the silent alarm, the locations where money was stored and details on bait bills and dye packs.

Employees were terrorized with a gun and their hands were zip tied together.

Police were able to get set up outside the bank while the robbers were still inside and arrested the three men right away. They had stolen about $12,000 in two bags.

Victims traumatized

Initially, police arrested just the three robbers, believing Belakziz was a victim before they realized it was an inside job. She was arrested a month later.

Three of the bank employees who were held hostage wrote victim impact statements describing how the robbery traumatized them.

Despite his sympathies for Nasery, Gates still acknowledged the impact of the crime on the victims.

"Mr. Nasery you have committed a serious crime that had a significant impact on the employees of the bank you robbed and the community."

Belakziz pleaded guilty at the same time as Nasery but her sentencing hearing has been delayed so the lawyers involved can address Gates' concerns that the proposed sentence of six months in jail was too low.

A sentence of more than six months would put her at a higher risk of being deported to Morocco, where she no longer has family.

The other robbers, Matthew Alexis Valdes and Lucas Wayne Windsor, pleaded guilty in 2015. Valdes received a five-and-a-half-year sentence for his role while Windsor got a five-year, two-month prison term.