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Iowa Heartland Credit Union

A bank robbery suspect is shown at the counter of Iowa Heartland Credit Union in a surveillance footage released by Mason City police in 2015. Officials believe the man is the serial bank robber known as the AK-47 Bandit and is linked to heists in several states.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – A Montana man accused of a string of bank robberies, including one in Mason City, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. 

Richard Gathercole, 41, who was dubbed the "AK-47 Bandit," received that sentence Wednesday at a federal courthouse in Lincoln, Nebraska, for a robbery in that state. 

As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors agreed not to prosecute him for other crimes -- including a robbery at the Iowa Heartland Credit Union on July 28, 2015, in Mason City, according to court documents. 

The documents state Gathercole carried an AK-47 assault style rifle into the Mason City credit union along with a device that he told tellers was a pressure bomb. 

In making his demands for money, he allegedly placed the bomb on the counter to scare the tellers and get them to comply with his demands. 

The device was later examined by law enforcement authorities, who determined it was an explosive device made with smokeless powder, unknown metal pieces in the body of the device, and a fuse to light it. 

Authorities say Gathercole stole $126,000 from the credit union. No one was injured during the robbery. 

Gathercole admitted during a plea hearing in March to using an AK-47 to rob a Nebraska City bank of more than $90,000 in 2014.

Gathercole also pleaded guilty to the June 2017 carjacking of a farmer in Kansas that led to his arrest the same day in Lexington, Nebraska.

Gathercole was one of the most wanted bank robbers in the nation at the time of his arrest, accused of a string of bank robberies in California, Idaho, Iowa and Washington state from 2012 to 2017.

Before his arrest, the FBI had been looking for years for the man they called the "AK-47 Bandit," who typically wore a balaclava and carried an assault rifle with a drum magazine during the robberies.

Investigators believe Gathercole robbed a string of California banks early in his string of crimes, the first being the robbery on Feb. 29, 2012, of a bank in Chino, California.

During the robbery, investigators say Gathercole shot a Chino police officer. The bullet struck the officer's femoral artery and shattered his femur, ending his law enforcement career.

Prosecutors say that aside from the assault weapon he carried during the robberies, Gathercole showed a pattern of threatening violence during the robberies.

He usually threatened to kill bank employees and sometimes would place what appeared to be a bomb near bank employees, warning that it could go off inside the bank.

Authorities say Gathercole would sometimes wear a bullet proof vest that was marked "Sheriff" or "Police" during the robberies.

After his arrest, federal agents found homemade bombs, guns and ammunition, sheriff's badges and patches and a sheriff's vest in Gathercole's home.

As part of his plea deal, Gathercole won't be prosecuted by other jurisdictions for other crimes, including the Mason City robbery and shooting at a Kansas state trooper in 2017.

Some of the crimes had passed the five-year federal statute of limitations.

Globe Gazette reporter Mary Pieper contributed to this report. 

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