“Bombshell Bandit” Sandeep Kaur’s Bank Robbery Spree Tied to Problem Gambling
Recently, the BBC published an article on Sandeep Kaur, the Sikh-American bank robber who went on a 5-state spree before being caught in late 2014. Sandeep Kaur was dubbed “The Bombshell Bandit” by the FBI due to her youth, good looks, and good taste in clothes.
Ms. Kaur is a trained nurse who saved enough money to have a $200,000 stock market portfolio. She had used that windfall to begin higher-level courses, in hopes of attaining a better work position. Kaur had worked with sick patients and even volunteered to help jail inmates in Vancouver, where she was studying. Yet she risked it all to rob banks.
Background to the Crime Spree
The rare BBC interview revealed that Kaur’s bank robberies were tied to her gambling addiction. People often compare stock market speculation to gambling, because both involve the risk of money on an uncertain future event. Investors enjoy gambling, perhaps because of that dynamic. Where the two differ is the expected return: gambling is against a house edge, meaning you expect to lose money over time. Investment is done on a market which grows over time, so the investor tends to have the advantage, on average.
Sandeep Kaur made the mistake of equating one with the other. When the stock market crashed in 2008, she began investing in a number of the companies which had lost most of their value: Bank of America, AIG, and Prudential. As these slowly regained value, she built a stock portfolio over $200,000. She enjoyed the windfall by shopping for designer clothing. Her strict, controlling mother had bought clothing for boys and girls in the family interchangably, and adult success gave Kaur the chance to indulge. On her 21st birthday, she took a trip to Las Vegas Boulevard to the best retail outlets: Gucci, Christian Dior, Balenciaga, and Jimmy Choo. That trip changed her life.
That is when she discovered casino gambling. Gambling was like investment, but it offered the stimulation of quicker returns and more radical shifts in fortune. She described the adrenaline rush of gambling, especially on baccarat.
Anatomy of a Gambling Addiction
She said, “I gambled. I won a couple of thousand and it was pretty fun. I played blackjack and I kept winning. Everyone else at the table was getting mad. After a few trips, they started comping everything.”
Ms. Kaur had enough success that she began to frequent Las Vegas casinos like Bellagio. She enjoyed roulette, but gained a passion for baccarat. After a few trips to the Las Vegas Strip, she discovered baccarat. She told the reporter, “I can walk past roulette. But if I even see baccarat, my heart leaps.”
Once she found baccarat, Kaur began to gamble for huge sums of money, becoming a high roller. With her sense of style and the big money she threw around, Sandeep Kaur began to get comped for everything: hotel rooms, rich cognac, and sumptuous meals.
The House Always Wins
She had a hot streak in the beginning, which hooked her on the game. But like every game in Vegas, the house always wins. Soon enough, she was losing $60,000 in a few hands, despite believing she had figured out the game. In time, she lost more than $250,000. Her stock portfolio was gone.
When she got desperate and owed the casinos tens of thousands in markers, Sandeep Kaur started being bankrolled by a Mexican high roller and his Puerto Rican associate. These men stood around the casinos looking for people like Sandeep Kaur. They offered her enough money to win back what she owed. She needed $45,000 to pay all her debts, to the loan sharks and the casino.
Margins Calls at the Casino
She won back $38,000, but lost it all just as quickly. Facing debts to mysterious backers who probably had ties to organized crime and still having to pay off the casino IOUs, Sandeep Kaur fled back to her home state of California in mid-2012. There, she maxed out her credit cards to buy a house, claiming to her mother she bought it outright.
Kaur began working 96-hour shifts as a nurse to pay off her mortgage. Her cousin says, in her spare time, Kaur would gamble. Apparently, Sikh parents are nosy, so her mother looked at her bank statements and realized the truth. When her mother realized the truth at the end of 2012, she began trying to arrange a marriage for her daughter.
Talks of Arranged Marriages
Sandeep was having nothing of that arranged marriage. She did not respect the men her mother introduced her to. Kaur said, “What guy doesn’t have the balls to tell their family they want to get married on their own?”
By September 2013, she had found a man on her own, but her choice was not a good one. The two eloped, but the man was a control freak. She found herself a “prisoner in her own home”. He gave her a $1,000 allowance each week, but she gambled it away in Las Vegas (according to a cousin). By April 2014, her marriage was over.
The Ring Closes
By that time, her car had been impounded for unpaid gambling debts. Not only had the casinos caught up to her, but the shady men who loaned her the money in Las Vegas also found her. Two men were sitting in her car after she got gas one day. They told her she owed them $25,000, but that she would have to pay more: $35,000 to be paid two days later. When no one would loan her the money, the men told her she would have to work the money off.
The men, who were not the one who gave her the money (but probably bought the debt for pennies on the dollar), told her she would have to work for them. Ms. Kaur thought she meant drug running or prostitution, but they suggested robbing banks. For some reason, it seemed reasonable to her.
When the BBC correspondent asked why she did not go to the police, Kaur said she had been trained by her family to keep all shameful things secret. Her parents had lied about their divorce. She had lied to people about the severe punishments she suffered at her family’s hands, as well as the parties she attended. She had lied about the debts. Sandeep added, “Ever since we were kids, we had to lie.”
The Bombshell Bandit
So she began a crime spree. Each time, she would present a bank teller with a note demanding money, often between $50,000 and $100,000. Most of the time, she collected $2,000 to $8,000 in cash. She would present the money to the loan sharks, who would demand more, “Or she would have to work for them.”
After 5 robberies, ranging from San Diego to Utah, she was spotted by the police. Sandeep led the authorities on a long chase at 130 miles per hour. Once in custody, she tried to slit her wrists, but an inmate informed on her. She spent a night in solitary confinement, stripped of her clothes. That night, she changed her attitude. She said, “That’s when I stopped the thinking of killing myself. OK, I did it to myself… Now, it’s like, what can I do to help others? That’s my motivation now.”
Doubts about the Truth
Many of the investigators did not believe her story of the loan sharks. Instead, they matched the dates of her robberies to letters from the casinos, demanding payments. One investigator suggested she had a history of lying, and had shown little remorse in interviews. Paul Kohler, the prosecuting attorney, agreed with the investigators. Kohler said to the jury, “She was willing to gamble, not only her money and money she won at the casino. She was willing to gamble other people’s safety.”
The judge believed her story, though. Convicted of 5 robberies, he sentenced her to only 5 years and 6 months in prison. With good behavior, she could be out in half that time. He did order her to repay all the money she stole from banks.
In the BBC article, the journalist said she felt herself wanting to believe Sandeep Kaur. Funny enough, one got the idea they couldn’t bring themselves to buy the story completely. One gets the idea of a loveable, yet dangerous, rogue. Whatever the case, Sandeep Kaur’s story underscores the dangers of high stakes gambling, at least if you don’t have a family fortune or executive-level job with which to replenish one’s funds.