LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A man who once won millions of dollars in the California Lottery pleaded guilty Thursday in downtown Los Angeles to four counts of bank robbery.
On Thursday, James Allen Hayes, a security guard turned overnight millionaire, stood in a Los Angeles courtroom and pleaded guilty to committing a series of bank robberies. Hayes, 55, faces up to 80 years behind bars, with sentencing set for June 7 before U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin.
Hayes admitted to being the serial bank robber known to federal agents as both the Seasoned Bandit and PT Cruiser Bandit. His admission comes 20 years after he won a $19 million California Superlotto jackpot. The jackpot made him he second-largest Ventura County lottery winner ever.
When tracked down and arrested by the FBI in October, Hayes was living in a garage, authorities said.
Hayes was supposed to spend his days tinkering with his classic car, vacationing with his wife on a tropical beach and helping out his friends and family. Instead, he could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison, trying to kick a $1,000-a-week heroin habit.
'I know I'll change ...for the better'
Hayes was sure his string of bad luck had come to an end in 1998 when he won the $19 million jackpot. The odds of winning the prize were more than 18 million to 1, and good fortune seemed to be on his side.
Things were going to change for Hayes. He quit his night shift job with Dial Security in Ventura County. He would no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck. The IRS would get off his back and he'd soup up his '68 Camaro. He would be able to spend more time with his wife, who worked days, and they would be able to take a trip to Hawaii.
"I'm not going to blow the money," Hayes told the Los Angeles Timesback in 1998. "I know I'll change. But only for the better.... Mainly what I want to do is help out my family and friends in need."
The money couldn't have come at a better time.
"I don't have a savings account," Hayes admitted to the Times. "I have a restored muscle car."
But Hayes saw his winning as a sign of good things to come. He and his wife would buy a nice house together in Camarillo, and he'd keep playing the lottery because now luck was on his side. And he'd buy a new car, he told the local newspaper.
The PT Cruiser Bandit
It didn't take long for Hayes' life to fall apart. Not long after he won the lottery, he got divorced, and his ex-wife got half of the money, according to reports. Hayes walked away with a $6 million lump sum. It wasn't enough to support a serious drug habit. Spending $1,000 a week on heroin, Hayes blew through his winnings, according to investigators.
So the former security guard became a bank robber.
He was indicted last year in Los Angeles federal court in connection with a string of 10 heists between April and September in Pacific Palisades, Stevenson Ranch and Newhall. On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to bank robberies in Newhall, Valencia and Santa Barbara County, in which he got away with a total of about $40,000.
In each heist, Hayes used a note to rob the bank.
On May 24 of 2017, Hayes walked into a Union Bank on Carpinteria Avenue and slipped the teller with a note that read, "$5,000, no signals, no dye packs, no GPS, no sensors, no eye contact."
With the money from that haul, he bought himself a PT Cruiser, federal prosecutors allege. Formerly dubbed the "Seasoned Bandit" for his shock of white hair, he became known as the "PT Cruiser bandit" to FBI investigators closing in on him.
Hayes used the same method during each robbery.
On June 12, he gave a teller a note, threatening to shoot her. "Give me $10,000 in large bills. Be quick, I'm watching your every move. I have a gun," it said.
Hayes continued his spree, robbing two to three banks every month until investigators found him squatting in a garage in Ventura last October.
Hayes faces 80 years in prison when he's sentenced in June.
Back when he won the lottery, Hayes reflected on his life.
"I was very happy before this," Hayes told the Times. "This just tops it off."
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