VALDOSTA -- Five people were sentenced in Federal Court Thursday during sentencing proceedings in Macon in connection with crimes that occurred in Valdosta, from bank robbery and carjacking to bank fraud.

Arthur Lee Bell, 30, a Florida man who fled his trial proceedings in Federal Court on Feb. 28 in Valdosta before committing a carjacking against a Valdosta resident, was sentenced to 85 years in federal prison.

Bell, from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., signed a plea agreement June 13 confessing to the crimes of assault on a federal officer, carrying and using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, carjacking and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The Valdosta Daily Times reported at the time that Bell overpowered a contract guard for the U.S. Marshals Service while in a holding cell in the federal building in Valdosta, taking the guard's gun and fleeing into the street.

Still wearing his suit from court and concealing his gun, Bell reportedly waved at James Boswell, a Valdosta resident sitting in traffic on South Patterson Street.

After forcing his way into the 1937 Chevrolet Boswell was driving and demanding at gunpoint that Boswell drive on, Valdosta Police converged on the car.

Boswell was able to wrestle the gun from Bell before police pulled him from the car.

According to a release from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia in Macon, Bell was considered by the court an "armed career criminal."

Bell had been convicted of aggravated assault in Florida in 1985 and then again in 1989, of battery on a police officer in 1990, and was on trial in Federal Court for being in possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking offense at the time of his attempted escape in Valdosta.

In a separate sentencing Thursday, George Peter Morsch, IV, 34, Corunna, Mich., was sentenced to 19 years in federal prison in connection with the Sept. 27, 2000, robbery and hostage taking at the Bank of America on 2001 Baytree Road.

Morsch pleaded guilty June 13 to armed bank robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.

Morsch had ordered the employees of the Valdosta bank to the women's restroom after shooting the door to the bank open. He then removed cash from various teller drawers and 44 bank deposits in the night depository.

As police converged on the scene, Morsch took one teller's car keys and took another teller hostage as a body shield. After entering the vehicle without the teller, Morsch attempted to drive away.

Police fired upon the car, disabling it. Morsch was then apprehended after trying to flee on foot.

In another sentencing Thursday, two Lake Park men were sentenced after pleading guilty to their part in the March 15 robbery of the First State Bank and Trust Company, 1201 S. Patterson St.

Donald Ray Ceasar, 19, and Samuel Lardal Simmons, 23, both of Lake Park, entered guilty pleas June 13 to charges of armed bank robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.

Ceasar and Simmons confessed to being two of three gunmen who entered the bank, demanding loot of the teller before fleeing in a Toyota Paseo.

Their escape was foiled by a citizen who followed them to a location on Howell Road, where police were able to knock a getaway car into a ditch after they switched cars.

Ceasar was sentenced to 125 months (10.41 years) in federal prison, and Simmons was sentenced to 121 months (10.08 years) in federal prison for after signing their plea agreements.

Finally, a former manager of the Lacoga Federal Credit Union in Valdosta was sentenced to serve one year in federal prison and pay $53,740 in restitution to Cuna Mutual Group as a part of her sentence.

Deborah Prescott Butler, 41, 2781 Old Clyattville Road, entered a guilty plea June 13 to charges of bank fraud during her time as manager from 1997 to Sept. 17, 1999, when she resigned her post after the National Credit Union Association discovered multiple suspicious transactions made

by her.

To contact reporter Peter Failor, please call 244-3400, ext. 247.

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