A Springfield man who told police robbing banks was “his job” until they caught him, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to a string of bank robberies in Columbia.

Roger Lee Ballinger, 33, also pleaded guilty Tuesday before U.S Magistrate Judge Willie Epps Jr. to the armed robbery of a Chase Bank in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he told the FBI he wore a hat with the Mexican flag and a black suit to look good in case he “had to go out.”

Court documents show that in each of the robberies, Ballinger used the same airsoft gun to obtain about $32,000 from Merchants and Farmers, Commerce, and Great Southern bank branches in Columbia and the Chase Bank in Florida.

He was also indicted by a federal grand jury for robbing an O'Reilly's Auto Parts store in Columbia, but that count was dismissed through a plea agreement with prosecutors. The government is currently trying to audit his assets to see if any money can be returned through civil asset forfeiture.

Ballinger was apprehended on Nov. 5, 2018, by Columbia Police shortly after he robbed the Commerce Bank branch in the 3700 block of Sandman Lane in Columbia. In that robbery, police arrived at the bank while Ballinger was still inside and saw him running out.

Police chased Ballinger down Sandman Lane on foot as Ballinger dropped $20 bills and change along the way. Officers arrested him behind the Orscheln Farm and Home Store.

Ballinger told police he was from the Pomme de Terre Lake area north of Springfield, Missouri, and only came to Columbia to rob banks, because there were not a lot of police and “crackheads” on the streets.

He admitted to robbing the Commerce branch and told police it took too long because the assistant branch manager had problems opening a cash recycling machine due to the stress of having a gun pointed at his head, according to court documents.

Ballinger ran from the bank with about $6,800. Under questioning, he told detectives he was the culprit in the Sept. 7, 2018, robbery of the Great Southern branch in the 3200 block of S. Providence Road of about $13,000.

When police arrived at the scene of that robbery, a teller was so stressed she could not breathe and was being treated by paramedics, according to court documents. She was eventually able to tell detectives a man, which Ballinger admitted was him, came into the bank wearing a mask and demanding money.

Ballinger told her to get the cash drawer open. She told officers that under duress she forgot where her keys were and Ballinger told her, “I’m going to blow your mother (expletive) head off if you don’t get that drawer open right now.” 

Police wrote in court documents that Ballinger initially denied he was the man who on June, 18, 2018, robbed the Merchants and Farmers Bank in the 4000 block of Range Line Street, admitting it only after he was shown a surveillance photo.

A teller there told her co-worker “Get ready, we are about to be robbed,” as Ballinger entered the bank. He took money the tellers were counting near an ATM machine and went to the window and demanded more.

He asked one teller, “What have you got for me pretty?,” and while she handed him the cash in her drawer, she also slipped in a stack of bait bills, cash with marked serial numbers used to aid in tracking robbery suspects. In total, Ballinger left the Merchants and Farmers branch with about $7,800 in cash.

During the interrogation, Columbia detectives asked Ballinger if he had a job, to which he laughed and replied he did until they caught him. He said he has not been employed since leaving Florida.

Ballinger said that was his first robbery and he needed the money to get back to Missouri. He told detectives he wore a black suit and red tie with a hat bearing the flag of Mexico during the robbery because he wanted to look good in case he “had to go out.”

“The defendant said he loved the rush and did this because he wanted to be a Marine, but he could not join because he had been to prison,” FBI agents wrote in court documents. “He said he made robbing banks his mission.”

ppratt@columbiatribune.com

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