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'Grandpa Bandit' pleads guilty in Tenn.

COVINGTON - The Covington man who became known across the Southeast as the 'Grandpa Bandit' pleaded guilty to four counts of bank robbery Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Tom Varlan in Knoxville, Tenn., according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Bobby Joe Phillips, 65, is accused of starting off his crime spree when he robbed the First Georgia Community Bank on U.S. Highway 278 in September. Authorities say he went on to rob the First Tennessee Bank on Cedar Bluff Road in Knoxville on Oct. 1 and again on Oct. 12; the SunTrust Bank in Suwanee, on Oct. 24; the Tennessee Members First Federal Credit Union in Knoxville on Nov. 1 and 9; and the Security Bank in Warner Robins on Nov. 8.

Phillips was arrested at a Holiday Inn in Perry, near Warner Robins, in mid-November.

Federal authorities elected to prosecute him for the four Tennessee robberies and those are the charges he pleaded guilty to on Tuesday. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years on each count, and sentencing is set for July 31.

Sgt. Arvo Bowen of the Covington Police Department said in an earlier interview that the CPD will take out warrants against Phillips for the Covington bank robbery.

"He confessed to the robbery in Covington," Bowen said in an earlier interview with the Citizen. "He said he had just lost his job at Kroger (located behind the bank) and just decided to rob a bank. He did it the next day."

Phillips, who was found to have a previous federal prison record, worked the register and bagged groceries at the Newton Plaza grocery, Bowen said.

The detective said he learned that Phillips had a toy gun tucked into his waistband when he walked into the bank around 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 20 and handed the teller a note asking for $3,000.

"He said he asked for that because he just wanted to get what was right there quickly and get out of the bank. He was scared," Bowen said.

When Phillips was arrested, Bowen said he had approximately $3,000 on him, but he told Bowen the funds that came from First Georgia had already been spent.

"He said he spent it on hotel rooms and buying things and didn't have any of that money left," Bowen said.

Phillips made no effort to cover his face or disguise himself in any of the bank robberies. Because authorities say it is unusual for a man in his mid-60s to be robbing banks, he was dubbed the Grandpa Bandit and was immediately linked to a total of seven bank robberies in the two states.

Another identifying factor was the red Chevrolet S-10 pickup authorities say Phillips used as a get-away vehicle in each robbery. A lookout was placed on the pickup and that was what alerted Perry police when he was arrested in November.