On September 9, 2013, Saudi emigree Ranya Al-Huthaili, a stunning brunette with a sultry pout, put on her blonde wig and big, dark sunglasses and walked into the Dairy State Bank in Menomonie, Wisconsin. She handed one of the tellers a note, in a routine she’d recently perfected. “I have a gun,” the note read. “Do not make noise. You have one minute to give me the money.”
Al-Huthaili did not have a gun, but the threat worked—just as it had at the First State Bank and Trust in Hudson, Wisconsin five days earlier and at three other banks in Minnesota over the previous three weeks. She walked out of Dairy State Bank with $2,350 in cash, not realizing that five of the $20 bills in her possession were marked bait money.
What the 23-year-old bandit also did not realize was that the FBI had been investigating the recent spate of robberies in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Nor did she know that a simple slip-up at her last heist had led the feds right to her. On Sept. 5, a woman called the First State Bank in Hudson and asked if anyone had found a cellphone in the restroom, according to court documents. The only person to enter the restroom prior to the call was the woman who’d robbed $6,924 from the bank earlier that day. Agents traced the call back to al-Huthaili’s mother and, through Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services records, matched al-Huthaili’s physical description with that of the female stickup artist they’d been looking for. When al-Huthaili returned after the Menomonie robbery to her home in Roseville, Minnesota, a suburb between Minneapolis and St. Paul, she was placed under FBI surveillance. Agents followed her from her home to the Rosedale Shopping Center and, after she left the Apple Store with a brand new laptop, searched the cash register and found all five of the $20 bait bills. Al-Huthaili was arrested in the parking lot where she admitted to the crimes and to purchasing a wig and another pair of sunglasses, presumably for her next heist.
Al-Huthaili plead guilty to all five robberies in February. This week, the U.S. Attorney’s office recommended that Al-Huthaili be sentenced to 57 months, nearly five years, in prison.
The prosecutor’s filing in a Minnesota federal court reveals an intriguing tale of a Saudi Arabian socialite-turned-Midwestern mugger who hit up banks to impress a supposed low-life Mafioso.
According to court documents filed by the prosecution, al-Huthaili lived “a life of privilege” that included maids, drivers, and royal friends in Saudi Arabia before moving to the Twin Cities with her mother at age 17. There, she graduated from public high school and attended Hamline University, a small, private liberal arts school in St. Paul. The Saudi Arabian government paid for her tuition in addition to a $1,800 stipend for personal expenses. Life in Minnesota may not have been the “crystal palace”—as her mother put it—that she was used to, but there is no evidence to believe al-Huthaili was desperate for cash.
That is, until she met Thomas Rubino. None of the court documents or local news coverage of al-Huthaili’s case offer any insight into Rubino’s background. A public records search for a Thomas Rubino in Minnesota yields no results, while court records show 14 different bankruptcy cases involving people named Thomas Rubino in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania between 1989 and 2013. Most of the information available on Rubino was provided by al-Huthaili and her family to investigators following her guilty plea. And even that is sketchy at best.
Al-Huthaili told federal agents that she met Rubino at the end of 2012 and was dating him by March, 2013, according to court documents. Al-Huthaili claims that Rubino told her his family was in the Mafia, that he was a hitman, and that he needed $50,000 to escape his life of organized crime. (The Google search results for “Rubino Mafia” are plentiful, but it’s unclear whether al-Huthaili’s lover is related to any of the alleged mobsters who share this last name or whether that’s even his real name at all.)
“Under the romantic spell of a new love interest,” the prosecution wrote in its recommendation for sentencing, al-Huthaili took out an $8,000 and says she gave it to Rubino. But this was not enough. Al-Huthaili said Rubino continued to ask her for more money, changing his story from escaping the mob to claiming he had cancer and needed money to pay for treatment. According to court documents, a pre-sentence investigation found text messages demonstrating Rubino’s demands.
During a detention hearing on September 16, 2013 during which the prosecution successfully argued that al-Huthaili was a flight risk and should be held in custody until she is sentenced, al-Huthaili’s sister Samia described al-Huthaili’s relationship with Rubino as “secretive” and said her sister had undergone negative personality changes since meeting him. According to court records, Rubino had called al-Huthaili’s mother and asked if al-Huthaili could “make this all go away” by fleeing to Saudi Arabia. In arguing against letting the young robber out on bail, the prosecution noted that when she was arrested, al-Huthaili said she’d heard voices and growling sounds in her head. She also reportedly told her probation officer that she was considering suicide. Al-Huthaili is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the two countries are not bound by a bilateral extradition treaty. Furthermore, the prosecution argued, al-Huthaili was caught with newly purchased disguises, leading them to believe that she’d fully intended to continue her crime spree.
Al-Huthaili’s attorney Dan Scott did not return a request for comment on this story, but court documents suggest that the defense is mounting a case for a lighter sentence by arguing that al-Huthaili acted under the influence and fear of her manipulative boyfriend. On top of the fact that Al-Huthaili has no prior criminal record, she submitted to the court an assessment by a psychiatrist who concluded that al-Huthaili has “dependent personality disorder” which means she is “very submissive and prone to manipulation by others” and has a “tendency to subordinate personal wishes and decision making to someone she perceives as stronger or dominant.”
The prosecution counters that while text message and phone records show Rubino was, in fact, manipulative and verbally abusive, there is no evidence that he physically threatened her. Though Rubino did claim that his own life was at risk if she did not give him the money, prosecutors say, al-Huthaili came up with the idea rob banks completely on her own, even maintaining that Rubino had no idea what she was up to.
Her sentencing is scheduled for May 21.