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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, August 11, 2001

Ex-Maui air controller accused of bank heists

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

Rick Lee Davis, 43, a former Maui air traffic controller, allegedly robbed banks to pay child support.

Associated Press

A one-time Maui air traffic controller and real estate agent has been charged with bank robbery, and is suspected of nine San Francisco-area bank heists.

Davis, who was tagged the "Robust Robber'' before his identity was known, told detectives he robbed banks to pay child support and to help fly his two sons, aged 17 and 13, to and from Maui to visit him. The news of his arrest stunned his former co-workers on Maui.

"He's a wonderful man, a wonderful father,'' said former employer Rosie Poree-Hogin, owner of ERA Realty in Kihei, who talked to Davis by phone last month. "His world revolved around his children. That's why this is so shocking.''

Davis, who earned about $120,000, was president of the air traffic controllers' union at San Francisco International Airport.

He was charged Tuesday with one bank robbery stemming from his Aug. 3 arrest after holding up the Concord, Calif., branch of Bank of America. The FBI alleges he robbed nine banks since last Oct. 17, taking a total of about $60,000.

Yesterday, a reserved Davis appeared in U.S. District Court in a red jail jumpsuit, his graying hair cut close. The "Robust Robber" nickname came from the thief's stocky build. Davis is heavyset and 5 feet, 7 inches tall.

Federal Magistrate Judge Wayne Brazil yesterday placed a $150,000 bond requirement on Davis to guarantee his appearance Aug. 21. The judge also ordered Davis to submit to a psychiatric evaluation.

California police speculated that Davis needed money from the latest robbery because his sons were supposed to arrive Saturday from Maui for a weeklong visit with their father.

Davis lived on Maui from 1987 to 1998 and worked as a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller at Kahului Airport and part-time real estate agent. In October 1998, he divorced his wife, Deborah Davis, a part-time customer service agent with United Airlines at Kahului Airport.

Davis' former mother-in-law, Beatrice Ribao of Maui, said her 43-year-old daughter, a Makawao resident, was traveling in Canada.

Davis suffered life-threatening head injuries in a serious auto accident in which he struck a cow in rural Kula. Shortly after his recovery from extensive surgeries, Poree-Hogin said, he moved to California.

He called the real estate office on holidays and at other times, Poree-Hogin said. During his call last month, he gave no indication anything was wrong.

Originally from California, Davis coached youth soccer and baseball on Maui. At work, he was a supervisor, union representative and president of the Maui local of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Davis and his wife separated in February 1997 after 17 years of marriage, and divorced a year and a half later. According to Maui court records, Davis was ordered to pay $1,400 a month in child support and was granted joint custody with visitation rights during summer and other school breaks. He was to share air transportation expenses.

In the court records, Davis said he depended on credit to get by and was counting on the sale of the couple's Makawao home.

The Associated Press and Neighbor Island Editor Christie Wilson contributed to this report.