Ex-St. Albans cop gets five years for ‘bling bandit’ bank robberies

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For years, Athelson Kelson helped to put dangerous criminals behind bars as an NYPD detective and officer, but now authorities say he is the one who needs to be put away.

Kelson, 61, who lived in St. Albans, was sentenced to five years in prison in Nassau County last Thursday for a string of bank robberies he committed on Long Island during the summer of 2008.

The so-called “bling bandit” admitted in February to stealing thousands of dollars from branches across Nassau County and allegedly took cash from a Queens bank as well, according to Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice.

“Violent crime will not be tolerated in Nassau County and my office will do everything possible to ensure that our neighborhoods are safe from defendants like this,” the DA said in a statement.

Kelson earned the nickname for the gold watches he would wear while committing the bank robberies, but that was not the only piece of metal Kelson carried around during his spree, the DA said.

When he stole money from a Chase bank in Franklin Square July 7, 2008, Kelson displayed a handgun, according to the DA. When he robbed a Bank of America in New Hyde Park Aug. 4, 2008, and a Chase bank in West Hempstead Aug. 26, 2008, however, he did not display a weapon, Rice said.

No one was hurt during any of the incidents in which Kelson stole anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 each time, the DA said. He is also awaiting trial in Queens for bank robberies in the borough he allegedly committed during his spree.

Kelson retired from the Police Department in 2005 after serving 33 years. He worked as a detective out of several departments, including the Joint Terrorist Task Force Unit.

His fellow detectives said he also served in the Vietnam War and was awarded several medals, including the Purple Heart. Kelson was diagnosed with liver cancer before the bank robberies began.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:49 pm, October 10, 2011
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