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Minnesota 'man in black' bank robber gets 14 years in prison

By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - A defendant known as the "man in black" bank robber who was accused of 31 holdups in a year-long spree in Minnesota was sentenced on Monday to 14 years in federal prison on his guilty plea to six counts of armed bank robbery.

Sheikh Bilaal Muhammad Arafat, who was known as Mark Edward Wetsch during the robbery spree in 2011 and early 2012, pleaded guilty in 2013 to six of the robberies while taking responsibility for 25 others, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson also sentenced Arafat to five years' supervised release on each count.

According to court documents and statements from prosecutors, Arafat wore a black mask and brandished what was believed to be a firearm during the bank robberies in which he stole a total of more than $110,000.

Arafat, who represented himself in court, had unsuccessfully sought to withdraw his guilty plea. He said in a sentencing statement submitted to the court on May 14 that the only crime he had committed was a bank robbery in Brewster on January 3, 2012.

"I was (influentially) coerced and induced by the government and threatened by this very judiciary to plead guilty to charged offenses I did not commit," Arafat wrote in the statement.

Attorney Jordan Kushner served as standby counsel for Arafat during the proceedings and said after the sentencing that he was not authorized to comment on the case.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Wis.; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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