Accused bank robber that prompted massive traffic stop cops plea deal with DA

If convicted of bank robbery, Paetsch could have faced between seven and 25 years in federal prison

By BRANDON JOHANSSON Staff Writer

AURORA | A former music teacher arrested on bank robbery charges last summer after a bizarre traffic stop in Aurora has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, according to court records.

Christian Paetsch’s lawyer filed a motion last month in federal court saying Paetsch had reached a “conditional plea agreement” with prosecutors. The motion didn’t specify what the terms of the deal are.

Christian Paetsch

A judge scheduled a “change of plea hearing” for Paetsch on Jan. 24 and cancelled Paetsch’s Dec. 3 trial date.

Paetsch’s lawyer, federal public defender Matthew Belcher, did not respond to requests for comment this week.

Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office in Denver, said that under the plea agreement, Paetsch is expected to plead guilty to armed bank robbery and use of a weapon in the commission of a crime of violence. In return, federal prosecutors will allow Paetsch to continue to appeal a judge’s ruling on whether the traffic stop that led to Paetsch’s arrest was legal. Dorschner said he couldn’t say what sentence, if any, Paetsch had agreed to.

If convicted of bank robbery, Paetsch could have faced between seven and 25 years in federal
prison.

Federal prosecutors said Paetsch, an accomplished violist who taught music at several area schools, robbed the Wells Fargo Bank at East Hampden Avenue and South Chambers Road on June 2, a day after a banker there refused to renegotiate his loan. Police arrested him after stopping 25 cars and detaining dozens at East Iliff Avenue and South Buckley Road.

The traffic stop sparked a firestorm from critics who said police violated the rights of innocent motorists by ordering them out their cars at gunpoint at a busy intersection. Court documents said police stopped the cars because a GPS tracker hidden in a the more than $25,000 Paetsch stole from the bank showed the robber was in one of the cars.

Paetsch’s lawyer argued that because the stop was unconstitutional, the bulk of the evidence against Paetsch — including money stolen from the bank, a disguise and two pistols — should be tossed. But a judge sided with police and prosecutors and said that while the stop was out of the ordinary, police acted appropriately.

With the judge’s ruling, Paetsch’s prospects at trial looked grim because prosecutors had a mountain of evidence against him, including the cash from the bank and the beekeeper mask he wore during the heist.

Belcher said after the judge’s ruling that he planned to appeal, and it appears even after the plea is reached that the appeal could go forward.

Paetsch has been free on bond since a few days after the
robbery.

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