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Ex-convict arrested in bank robbery

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

He had just been released after serving prison time for several robberies in 1997, authorities say.

Just eight days after gaining his freedom after convictions for a string of North Pinellas bank robberies, Joseph Gullo was back to his old tricks Thursday, authorities said.

Gullo, 29, a former Florida State University criminology major, was arrested Thursday afternoon and charged with robbing the Republic Bank in Dunedin.

Cornered by Pinellas County deputies in a quiet neighborhood in Palm Harbor, Gullo rammed into a sheriff's vehicle, a Ford F-250 truck, while trying to get away, authorities say.

Gullo, who lived in the Fort Myers area after being released from a halfway house, entered the bank on 1478 Main St. in Dunedin about 3:45 p.m. and implied that he had a weapon, said sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie.

After Gullo left the bank in a maroon pickup with an undisclosed amount of money, a deputy saw him on Tampa Road and Belcher Road, Dennie said. Gullo drove into the nearby Garlands subdivision, where he was boxed in.

"(Deputies) were waiting for him and he tried to ram the deputy to get away," Pinellas sheriff's Detective Paul Martin said.

After the front-end collision, Gullo's pickup was pinned between the larger Ford truck and a sheriff's cruiser driven by Deputy David Bianchet. Gullo tried to run but was tackled by Bianchet, Martin said.

"Big mistake," Martin said. "Wait until you see how big (Bianchet) is. Not the guy you want chasing you."

Gullo told sheriff's investigators that he was on probation after being released from federal prison in July, Martin said. Gullo also told investigators that on Dec. 20, he had left a halfway house where he was staying because of his previous bank robberies.

"He gets out of jail and he's back at it again," Dennie said. "It's incredible."

Martin also investigated Gullo in 1997 when he was charged with four counts of robbery.

"It took a few moments, but I recognized him from the last time," Martin said.

During his previous robberies, Gullo lived in Palm Harbor and decided to skip a semester at FSU. The criminology major robbed two North Pinellas banks four times starting in January 1997, authorities said.

Gullo was caught in April 1997 shortly after robbing an AmSouth bank in Oldsmar. Gullo took a cab to that bank and handed a teller a note implying he had a weapon and demanded money.

He left the AmSouth bank and got into the cab, parked in a nearby strip mall. A dye pack slipped in with the money exploded in the cab, which prompted witnesses to call 911. Gullo was found with a smoldering bag of money and dye-stained hands.

After the crash Thursday, a portion of Garland Circle was blocked off by sheriff's investigators. The commotion was noticed by several residents of the usually quiet subdivision as sheriff's sirens and investigators filled the street.

"All I really heard were the sirens and my dog went crazy, so I peeked outside," said Eileen Harfmann, 46, who lives a few houses from the site of the crash. "I just figured there was an accident.

After Gullo was arrested by deputies, he admitted robbing the bank, Dennie said.

"He's been out for eight days," Martin said. "You'd think they would learn."

_ Information from Times files was used for this story. Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quiocosptimes.com.

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