"Man in Black" appeal thrown out

A federal appeals court has thrown out a move by the "Man in Black" to halt his sentencing for bank robbery.

Last week, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal by Sheikh Bilaal Muhammad Arafat to back out of a plea bargain he made with federal prosecutors last year.

Arafat, born Mark Edward Wetsch, admitted he held up 31 Minnesota banks over an eight-month period that ended with his January 2012 arrest after robbing the Brewster Bank. He and prosecutors struck a deal in which he would be sentenced for six robberies.

But at his sentencing in November, the 51-year-old Arafat told U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson that he wanted to withdraw his guilty pleas. He claimed he was innocent and that his admissions under oath were coerced.

The law required him to show a "fair and just reason for requesting withdrawal," and in February, Nelson ruled he hadn't done that. She set a new sentencing date, March 7.

Before that day arrived, though, Arafat -- a former nursing home exec and convicted fraudster who is representing himself -- asked the 8th Circuit to halt the sentencing.
His appeal accused Nelson of bias. The Minneapolis man also said the judge didn't know the law and had abused her discretion.

In its 34-word order, the 8th Circuit said it was dismissing Arafat's appeal "for lack of jurisdiction."

Arafat has admitted being the thief the FBI came to refer to as "the "Man in Black," a reference to the black or dark clothing he wore during his spree. He got away with almost $109,000, but his streak ended Jan. 3, 2012, 90 minutes after he robbed a bank in Brewster.

Arafat pleaded guilty to that heist and later pleaded guilty to five more counts. But he admitted in court that he robbed 31 banks in all, making him the most prolific bank robber in Minnesota history.

His plea deal with the government called for a sentence of 14 years, but Nelson is not bound by that.

Arafat previously spent 33 months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty in 2005 to mail fraud; he cheated a nursing home company he worked for out of almost $1.5 million.

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