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Suspect in bank robberies pleads not guilty in federal court

Romell Nellis pleaded not guilty in federal court

Romell Nellis pleaded not guilty in federal court in Central Islip to a federal charge of violating the terms of federal supervised release. Credit: NCPD

A Hempstead man pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges of robbing four banks, including two after he had been released from a Nassau County court without having to post bail in the cases.

Romell Nellis, 40, also pleaded not guilty in federal court in Central Islip to a charge of violating the terms of supervised release in connection with his alleged role in the bank robberies.

It was the second time Nellis faced a charge of violating the terms of federal supervised release, according to officials and court records.

Nellis had previously pleaded guilty to violating the terms of his supervised release in 2019 for failing to attend a drug-treatment program, said his attorney, Jeffrey Pittell of Bayside, Queens.

That first charge of violating supervised release was lodged after Nellis had served a sentence of 85 months in federal prison for a conviction of conspiracy to distribute crack. That was supposed to be followed by four years of supervised release, according to officials. Nellis was expected to be sentenced on that charge in several weeks, officials said.

But at Pittell's request, U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein postponed Nellis’ sentencing for several months on the first violation of supervised release — together with hearings on the second charge — as well as on the four bank robberies.

Nellis is now being held without bail on the federal charges.

Each federal bank robbery charge theoretically carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison; each violation of supervised release up to 4 years.

Nassau police initially arrested Nellis in January for the first two robberies, both in December — a Roslyn Savings Bank branch in West Hempstead and a Chase bank branch in Valley Stream.

He was ordered held on $10,000 bail in the first two robberies by Nassau District Court Judge David McAndrews, though the charges were not eligible for bail, records show. That initial ruling requiring bail was overturned by Nassau County Judge Christopher Quinn who released Nellis without bail, but with electronic monitoring.

Nellis cut off the electronic monitor after being freed, and in February committed two other bank robberies, according to officials — a second holdup of the West Hempstead Roslyn Savings Bank and that of a Hempstead branch of Wells Fargo.

Police said that in the Roslyn robbery, Nellis gave a teller a note “stating he had a gun,” demanded cash, then fled with an undisclosed amount of money.

Based on what had occurred in the first two robberies, Nassau detectives were able to identify Nellis as the suspect, officials said.

Both defense attorney Pittell and Eastern District spokesman John Marzulli declined to comment after Thursday's hearing. 

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