He robbed an El Cajon bank with a fake bomb. Thirty years later, he's pleading guilty — from Canada - The San Diego Union-Tribune
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He robbed an El Cajon bank with a fake bomb. Thirty years later, he’s pleading guilty — from Canada

Dec. 1992 surveillance photo shows Gregory Lloyd Hanson robbing El Cajon Union Bank. He used a fake bomb with these parts
Images from a prosecutor’s sentencing memorandum filed in San Diego federal court show a Dec. 22, 1992, surveillance photo of a man then known as Gregory Lloyd Hanson walking out of an El Cajon Union Bank with more than $39,000. He was armed that day with a gun and a briefcase with a fake bomb made up of the components on the right.
(U.S. District Court filing)

Iridian Grenada, previously known as Greg Hanson, once led life of crime with bank heists, a prison escape and the murder of an accomplice

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Three days before Christmas Day 1992, a sharply dressed Canadian man walked into a Union Bank branch in El Cajon armed with a real pistol and a fake bomb.

The bandit threatened the bank manager and a teller, lying that two accomplices were outside the building armed with high-powered rifles. Moments later, he absconded with more than $39,000 in cash, leaving behind a briefcase filled with road flares, batteries and wires designed to look like an explosive.

On Wednesday, nearly three decades after the heist, the robber appeared via video in a San Diego federal courtroom from a Canadian prison under what U.S. District Judge Cathy Bencivengo described as “rather extraordinary circumstances.”

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Iridian Mishael Grenada, who at the time of the heist was Gregory Lloyd Hanson, pleaded guilty to armed bank robbery. Bencivengo then sentenced him to more than seven years in prison, but gave him credit for time served on a Canadian second-degree murder conviction.

The guilty plea in U.S. District Court was a key step toward resolving a complicated, border-spanning legal case that centers on a longstanding U.S. extradition request, and Grenada’s attempts to avoid extradition by not seeking parole in Canada.

The plea was also the latest step on the 56-year-old Grenada’s “restorative justice” journey — from the self-described “cocky young punk” who held up the Union Bank, to the married grandfather who now seeks to live a peaceful life after undergoing what his attorney argues has been a “positive, transformative, and rehabilitative metamorphosis over the last (27) years of incarceration.”

Grenada and his attorneys contend his life of crime — which included bank heists, a prison break, the murder of an accomplice and a near escape to Fiji — are long in his past.

‘Constant criminal activity’

Though the El Cajon bank robbery had nothing to do with Grenada’s Canadian prison sentences — he’s been incarcerated since 1993, except for a three-month stint on the lam after a 1994 prison break — it is one of the key reasons he has continued to remain behind bars so long.

A Canadian judge once called Grenada’s criminal record “horrendous,” writing that his “constant criminal activity” began with thefts in 1984 and “became increasingly more serious and violent” until 1995.

Grenada first gained notoriety in 1989, when he and an accomplice were arrested for allegedly robbing a man at a hotel in Calgary, Alberta. The Calgary Herald reported that while police were questioning the accomplice in another room, Grenada stood on a table in his interview room, removed a panel from the ceiling, crawled a few feet into an adjoining office and disappeared out a window.

It’s unclear why Grenada later ended up in the San Diego area, but in 1993, a month after robbing the Union Bank on Magnolia Avenue, San Diego police arrested him for an unrelated burglary, according to a sentencing memorandum from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaclyn Stahl. He was released on bond, never showed up to court and apparently fled back to Canada.

Police in Vancouver, British Columbia, arrested him the next month, in February 1993, while he was robbing a bank, Stahl wrote. He pleaded guilty to six counts and was sentenced to eight years in prison. But in May 1994, he escaped the medium-security facility.

The Abbotsford News, a paper in the town east of Vancouver where the prison break occurred, reported that he escaped in a garbage bin.

Over the next three months, Grenada “committed several crimes in Canada, including kidnapping a businessman at gunpoint, bank robbery with shots fired, possession of a handgun, and assault and battery of an officer,” Stahl wrote.

After three months on the lam, Grenada purchased a one-way ticket from Ottawa to Fiji. But moments before boarding the flight, airport personnel discovered a small amount of hashish in the fugitive’s pocket, along with stolen credit cards, the Abbotsford News reported. Prosecutors said he attempted to make another escape two days later but was unsuccessful.

Court documents and news reports offer few details about the murder, but the victim was Grenada’s accomplice in a series of Montreal robberies during his three-month prison break.

In 1995, while Grenada was in Canadian custody, a federal grand jury in San Diego returned an indictment against him for the armed bank robbery in El Cajon, and in 1997 the Department of Justice sought to extradite him. But based on Canadian law at the time, that extradition request was believed likely to fail, and the case was dismissed.

But when Canadian law changed in 1999, making the extradition attempt more likely to succeed, federal prosecutors reconvened a grand jury, which again returned an indictment against Grenada for the armed robbery. In 2001, Canadian authorities formally arrested the prisoner for the El Cajon robbery, and in 2003 a Canadian judge ruled he should be extradited if released on parole.

Extradition or parole?

Grenada, who has long admitted responsibility for the El Cajon heist, has been eligible for parole in Canada since 2004. But for many years he declined to seek parole in order to avoid U.S. extradition, believing that being brought back to San Diego would destroy the marriage, family and community connections he established while trying to redeem and rehabilitate his life while in prison.

Trip Johnston, his local defense attorney, argued Grenada’s decision not to seek parole was in part based on previous “bad legal advice” that Grenada would face 30 years to life in prison for the El Cajon robbery. That led him to fear that “any successful application for parole ... would permanently separate him from the very spiritual community, wife and family in Canada that helped lead to his extraordinary rehabilitation,” Johnston wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

After unsuccessfully challenging the extradition request, Grenada finally petitioned for parole in 2020. But Johnston wrote that his client was caught in a “no-win situation,” because “as it stands now, Mr. Grenada will never be extradited until he is paroled, and he will never be paroled until his extradition issue is resolved.”

Both the judge and prosecutor said Wednesday that, small procedural steps aside, his plea assured the extradition issue was resolved.

In her sentencing memorandum, Stahl wrote that “the time and expense” to extradite Grenada now “would be significant,” and that many of the victims and witnesses from the El Cajon robbery have died in the past three decades.

“The interest of justice is served by resolving this case now,” Stahl wrote, adding that given the conviction, Grenada will almost certainly never be allowed to legally return to the U.S. “This result will provide closure to the victims and witnesses in this case, provide just punishment given the unique circumstances, and protect the public from any further crimes by (Grenada).”

At least one Canadian appellate judge agreed with the defense attorney that Grenada has been rehabilitated.

“It is clear that Mr. Grenada has used his time in prison to undergo a profound personal transformation,” the judge wrote in a 2020 ruling. “On the evidence before me, he has redeemed his life. He is a different man from the one who committed appalling acts of violence. He is a person of faith, and a committed family man rooted in his communities despite having to build those connections while in prison.”

Grenada left behind what he described as his own “outlawry” and “overt wickedness,” and according to his Canadian attorney has not had a serious disciplinary infraction since 1996. In 2010 he transferred to a prison in Québec to pursue mediation with the family of his murder victim, the Canadian attorney wrote in a 2017 court filing.

In a letter Grenada wrote this summer to one of his El Cajon bank robbery victims, he explained that “Beginning in 1997, I committed to making serious and lasting changes in my life. It was the year I started to study ‘restorative justice.’ It was also the year I was baptized as a dedicated Christian.”

Since then, Grenada has turned to studying the Indigenous roots on his mother’s side of the family, which led to his acceptance by and registration with the Métis Nation of British Columbia. In an affidavit filed in his Canadian case and included in his sentencing memorandum, he wrote that he found God and a purpose in life.

“As a result, every day I feel closer and closer to that Creator, to my ancestors, and to justice,” he wrote. “Today I feel at peace.”

Dressed in a long-sleeved blue shirt and seated next to his Canadian lawyer, Grenada admitted to each element of the Union Bank robbery on Wednesday, telling the judge it was “regrettably” all true. Johnston, his local attorney, assured the judge that if Canadian authorities ever release Grenada, he’ll remain on supervised parole his entire life.

In addition to the prison term, Bencivengo ordered Grenada to repay the $39,122 he stole, though she quipped that based on his long confinement, “I don’t think Union Bank is holding its breath.”

Bencivengo told Grenada she hoped the guilty plea “closes the door on this chapter” of his life and legal proceedings, and that she hoped the declarations of his rehabilitation are true.

“I do wish you the best of luck,” the judge said. “I hope you’ll be able to get paroled at some point.”

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