(ran North edition)
A New Port Richey man who robbed seven Pinellas County banks last year has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Roger R. Serio, 33, pleaded guilty earlier this month to seven counts of robbery, along with counts of aggravated assault on an officer, fleeing police and drug charges.
Under state corrections guidelines, Serio will first become eligible for release from prison when he is in his late 50s.
Last fall, Serio became one of the Tampa Bay area's most wanted men when he began robbing banks almost every week. Authorities say he robbed 11 banks, most of them in Pinellas, though he also stuck up banks in Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties.
Detectives suspected Serio, who had struggled with crack cocaine problems earlier in his life, was using drugs again. They also thought he was doping in Tampa, then driving his silver Saturn Ion to Pinellas to rob banks so he could buy more crack.
Serio made no effort to conceal his face from bank surveillance cameras, and witnesses were able to jot down his tag number. Sheriff's investigators knew Serio from a Clearwater area consignment shop robbery in 1995, which he also committed to buy drugs.
He pleaded guilty to that charge and received two years of house arrest. He successfully quit drugs and completed his sentence in 1998. Then he relapsed and started holding up banks, authorities said.
He hit one bank on Roosevelt Boulevard in Largo twice. He robbed a Gulfport bank just minutes after a police detective used the ATM there. He also stuck up banks in Clearwater and Palm Harbor.
In each robbery, Serio implied he had a gun, though no weapon was ever seen.
Just before Christmas, Serio hadn't robbed a bank in 10 days, one of the longest dry spells of his series. Detectives thought he would strike soon, so they placed deputies on the Howard Frankland Bridge to keep an eye out for the Ion.
On Dec. 22, deputies saw Serio driving across the bridge to Pinellas County. They tried to pull him over, but Serio led them on a high-speed pursuit in which he swerved at deputies' squad cars. The pursuit ended when Serio ran the car into a concrete barrier on Interstate 275 just north of 54th Avenue N.
On Sept. 17, Judge Linda Allan sentenced Serio as a habitual offender, though she allowed his sentence on each charge to run concurrently rather than on top of one another, said prosecutor Lydia Wardell.
Serio also was ordered to pay restitution of about $17,000 to the seven Pinellas banks he robbed.