Serial Armed Robber Gets Substantial Prison Term
Joint Law Enforcement Effort Pays Off
Shown is a clear ammunition magazine for one of the firearms seized from Birmingham armed robber Jamey Lee Matthews. The unique attributes of some of the weapons Matthews used during the robberies—like a clear magazine—helped eyewitnesses to better identify them.
It was a highly effective combination of local and federal resources. A 38-year-old man was identified by local police as the suspect in a series of frightening armed robberies of businesses in the Birmingham, Alabama area, one of which ended with a customer getting shot. Local authorities contacted the FBI’s Birmingham Field Office with a request for assistance—they wanted to see if their suspect could be charged under the federal Hobbs Act, taking advantage of its harsher penalties (see sidebar).
The multi-agency investigation that followed led to this particular suspect—Jamey Lee Matthews—pleading guilty to four counts of robbery under the Hobbs Act. And just last month, he received a 25-year federal prison term. The judge also ordered him to pay $208,000 in restitution to the man he shot and to the stores he robbed.
The series of robberies Matthews was charged with took place during October 2012, and among the businesses he robbed were a convenience store, a dollar store, a supermarket, a pharmacy, and a gas station. His first job was the convenience store, which he entered just after 4 a.m. on October 11, 2012, with a shotgun. He threatened the female clerk, who complied with his order to open the register. Subsequent robberies were similar—he would enter the store with a firearm, often wore a Halloween mask, threatened employees and customers, and demanded money.
A Look at the Hobbs Act
The federal Hobbs Act, passed in 1946, was an amendment to the 1934 Anti-Racketeering Act. Both laws target labor racketeering and organized crime activities. But the Hobbs Act has also been used successfully in recent years against armed robbers who victimize businesses because the law criminalizes obstruction, delay, or impact on interstate commerce by robbery (or extortion) with the use of actual or threatened force.
In general, there are three main advantages to charging suspects under the Hobbs Act:
- The penalties are harsher than in local prosecutions. Sentences of 20, 30, and 50 years—and even life sentences—have already been handed out by federal courts around the country.
- Since the federal system has no parole, anyone receiving a federal sentence serves out the full term (no early-out for good behavior).
- Faced with long prison sentences, some of the suspects in these cases will cooperate with law enforcement and prosecutors—giving up names and knowledge of other crimes—in return for reduced sentences.
At the pharmacy he robbed, he varied his routine—rather than demanding money, he demanded prescription medication and ended up with more than 3,000 pills containing controlled substances.
But things took a potentially deadly turn the night of October 19, 2012, when Matthews entered a gas station with the intent to rob it. After brandishing a gun and threatening violence, employees gave him the money and he left. Several employees and a customer chased him, though, and Matthews fired at them, hitting the customer five times and severely wounding him.
The story took another turn the next morning, when a seriously injured man was found beneath a remote bluff outside of Birmingham and taken to a hospital. Local law enforcement responding to the scene found a pickup truck a short distance away with various firearms leaning up against the vehicle and others on the ground nearby, as well as evidence inside the truck seemingly tied to the series of Birmingham robberies. The truck was registered to a Birmingham woman who was the mother of the man found under the bluff. That man was Jamey Lee Matthews, and police soon honed in on Matthews as their suspect.
The federal investigation was led by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), ably assisted by the Birmingham Police Department, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, and our partners on the Northern Alabama Safe Streets Task Force, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the FBI Birmingham case agent, the investigation had complicating factors: the necessity of meeting the Hobbs Act threshold, the shooting during the gas station robbery, the pharmacy theft (also a federal offense), etc.
But working in investigators’ favor was the fact that Matthews wore memorable Halloween masks during most of the robberies—including one of a devil—and that the firearms he used stood out—one gun had a clear ammunition magazine, some had different colored tape, another was a silver sawed-off rifle, and another was an Uzi-style weapon. The distinguishing masks and firearms made it easier for eyewitnesses to describe what they had seen, and their accounts were often supported by store surveillance video.
And among the items seized from the pickup truck and from Matthews’ mother’s house were some of those firearms and masks matching eyewitness descriptions, clothing similar to what the robber had worn, a customer’s check written out to the victim gas station, and prescription bottles from the victim pharmacy.
In the face of such overwhelming evidence, Matthews agreed to plead guilty. And a joint law enforcement endeavor resulted in getting another dangerous criminal off the streets for a very long time.