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 store.

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

For that, William Kusznir, 25, of Oxford Circle, yesterday 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 on Dec. 3, 2008, scoring $970 from a TD Bank near Roosevelt Boulevard, and, as the FBI closed in, ended their spree a month and a half 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 Judge Gene E. K. Pratter, who was told that Kusznir was leaving behind daughters ages 5 and 21/2. 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. 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. Kusznir, dressed in the green jumpsuit of a federal prisoner, 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 that her son was due punishment.

His 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. "Me and her were getting high at the time," and 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 fully part of the crimes.

"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 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 store.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise S. Wolf said 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 that note to a cashier at the store on Roosevelt Boulevard. "Give me all the 20, 10, 5 or I'll shot you in the [expletive] head," it read.

"I'm not kidding. I have a gun. Give me the money," the cashier said Kusznir added, and then grabbed about $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 before 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.