It was the old story, boy meets girl, sparks fly, love ensues. Or in this Philadelphia romance, bank robbery.

Seven of them, plus a Target department store.

The take? Some $17,000 and a dye pack.

For that, William Kusznir, 25, of Oxford Circle, today got 36 months in jail after explaining how he and Bridget Carey, 27, met in a drug treatment program last year and then proceeded to rob banks across Northeast Philadelphia.

Kusznir would walk in with a note demanding money while Carey waited outside in her 2000 Oldsmobile Intrigue.

They started Dec. 3, 2008, scoring $970 from a TD Bank near Roosevelt Boulevard, and as the FBI closed in ended their spree almost two months later on Jan. 21, with $4,090 from a PNC Bank on Welsh Road.

All of which brought a roll of the eyes from U.S. District Court Judge Gene E. K. Pratter, who was told that Kusznir was leaving behind daughters aged 5 and 2 1/2. His crimes, she said, were "worse than stupid."

"Bank robbery strikes me as about the stupidest, as everyone always gets caught, and they don't get much," said Pratter. In Kusznir's case, she said, "the combination is breathtaking."

Kusznir and Carey were arrested about eight hours after the January PNC robbery when Philadelphia police spotted the Oldsmobile and picked up the couple for questioning.

Kusznir immediately confessed and said he felt bad about scaring the teller that morning.

In court, Pratter pressed Kusznir to explain why he lapsed into crime.

Dressed in the green jump suit of a federal prisoner, Kusznir was initially flustered. His brothers, best friend and sister-in-law were in the courtroom. His mother, Virginia, had just pleaded for a short sentence, while acknowledging her son was due punishment.

His defense attorney, Catherine Henry, senior litigator for the federal public defenders, pointedly noted that Kusznir never carried a weapon. Armed bank robbery would have exposed him to a stiffer sentence.

"I can't really explain why I did it," Kusznir began as he stood before the judge. "Me and her were getting high at the time," and he said Carey brought up the idea, initially as a joke. "A couple of days later she brought it up again."

After their arrest, Kusznir initially refused to cooperate with the government and admit that Carey was a full participant in the crime.

"I wanted to be her knight in shining armor . . . and keep her out of the system," Kusznir said. "I was living a fantasy."

His cooperation won him a reduced sentence. Carey pleaded guilty last month.

Kusznir said he was using OxyContin and had been arrested previously for marijuana possession. He had spent months in a residential drug treatment program, where he met Carey.

The case is unusual, law enforcement officials said, because the two did all eight jobs together, with Carey as a full-fledged participant. She drove the getaway car and wrote the note used to rob the Target.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise S. Wolf saud that the couple's tactics became more sophisticated as the robberies continued and that the note used in the Target robbery on Dec. 20, 2008, threatened violence .

Kusznir handed the note to a cashier. "Give me all the 20, 10, 5 or I'll shot you in the [expletive] head," it said.

"I'm not kidding. I have a gun. Give me the money." the cashier said Kusznir added, and who then grabbed some $4,000.

Carey, who has no criminal record, is to be sentenced in February. Her attorney, Jonathan H. Feinberg, said he was constrained from discussing the case prior to that hearing, but said Carey had "accepted responsibility" for her role in the robberies.

Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.