A Philadelphia man who had avoided conviction in city courts despite multiple arrests for robbery and other crimes, was sentenced to 37 years in a federal lockup Tuesday for two gunpoint robberies in the far Northeast in December 2007 and October 2009. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody also ordered John Gassew to pay $7,194 in restitution to two victims.
Gassew, 25, was found guilty in February of two robberies and using a firearm while committing the crimes. He was cleared of one robbery and one gun charge.
Gassew had a defense attorney but chose to represent himself a trial . Defense attorney William J. Honig said in a sentencing memo that Gassew "displayed a maturity and poise that none of us believed he possessed" in defending of himself, adding, "everyone should be proud of the way he conducted himself before this court."
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Ewald Zittlau said Gassew testified falsely at trial that he was selling pot in a nearby parking lot in Oxford Village at the time of the second robbery for which he was found guilty.
In that robbery, Gassew held up a 7-Eleven store on Oxford Avenue near Pine in Fox Chase on October 28, 2009, and struck the store clerk on the head with a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun. He made off with almost $6,000 worth of cigarettes and cash.
Cops spotted Gassew within minutes of the robbery when he smashed a stolen truck into a tree and ran off, police said. They recovered a gun from the truck. He was shot in the arm by police before his arrest, according to an arrest affidavit.
Federal prosecutors, who picked up the case in 2010 after it collapsed in city court when victims failed to show up to testify, have used tougher sentencing laws and penalties to prosecute selected robbery and firearms cases that are typically handled in Common Pleas Court.
The feds choose cases they are likely to win, where their conviction rate is roughly 95 percent.
Federal prosecutors have relied on a law called the Hobbs Act to target robbers who hit gas stations, convenience stores and other stores that they can show are involved in interstate commerce.
The penalties are mandatory and harsh.
Gassew, for example, faced a mandatory minimum of 32 years in a federal lockup because the Hobbs Act requires a mandatory seven-year sentence on the first count and a mandatory 25-year sentence for each count, where a firearm is used.