EAST NAPLES — The Bentley Bandit still doesn’t know why he went on a cross-country joy ride in luxury vehicles in 2011.
He’ll likely have about six more years to think about it while in a Florida prison.
Justin Durbin, the brazen cross-country car thief , the 25-year-old who became national fodder after his brazen series of high-end car heists, earning the Bentley Bandit moniker for his theft of the vehicle in Naples, pleaded no contest Tuesday to a grand theft charge in Collier County. His plea agreement calls for a seven-year prison sentence, with credit for five months already served in a Naples jail.
In an interview from the Naples Jail Complex following his plea, Durbin said he thought the seven-year plea offer was "a little much" for his crime. Still, he hopes other jurisdictions will note the length of his prison term and run any future penalties concurrent with his Collier County sentence.
"I don’t know how much time I’ll have to do. It’s always on my mind. But I feel like this should cover it," Durbin said.
Assistant State Attorney Lisa Mead said the plea offer was crafted "so that when he goes to other counties and they agree to run (Durbin’s sentences) concurrent or give him a light sentence, ultimately he will have gotten the sentence he should have gotten for committing all these crimes."
By accepting the plea to the lesser grand theft charge, Durbin avoided the possibility of a 30-year maximum prison sentence that comes with the original charge of theft over $100,000. He admitted to swindling a staffer of East Naples’ Ambassador Auto Sales, swiping a Bentley with a set of spare keys two weeks before his capture in southwest Louisiana.
With good behavior, Durbin could be out of a Florida prison within five and a half years, though two decisions loom large.
A Collier judge will decide in the coming months whether Durbin will receive credit for about two and a half years of time served in Arizona and Louisiana on separate charges. Durbin also is wanted in three other jurisdictions — Gainesville, Pensacola and a suburban Washington D.C. county — where he could receive additional time behind bars. (Although police in several other jurisdictions have tied Durbin to crimes there, he likely won’t be extradited to all of them.)
In the summer of 2011, the clean-cut, boyish-looking Durbin made headlines for a string of luxury vehicle thefts stretching from South Carolina to Missouri to Florida. In all, the Daily News linked Durbin to nine stolen vehicles and 17 criminal cases of theft or fraud.
Yet Durbin never sold a vehicle, instead leaving behind his previously boosted ride, often in pristine condition. He endangered the public during a few high-speed chases, yet nobody was harmed and he never turned violent. When he was spotted in Louisiana in the Bentley Continental GT stolen from Collier County — a vehicle bearing the stolen license plate reading "DIAL911" — a high-speed pursuit ended with Durbin putting his hands in the air and declaring, "It’s me."
In a series of interviews shortly after his September 2013 extradition to Collier County, Durbin struggled to answer why he went on the crime spree. He said he was depressed, a condition exacerbated by his estrangement from his parents, inability to hold down jobs and a proclivity for pilfering. On Tuesday, he still couldn’t pinpoint the reasons for his actions.
"I can’t give you an answer that will justify what I did or explain it," Durbin said.
Durbin said he now maintains frequent contact with his grandmother, a rare beacon of encouragement in his life.
“Justin could be the most giving, loving person. And then, if something would set him off, he could just be cold and calculating.”-- Cindy Dubrin, Justin's grandmother
He said he hopes to rejoin society before his 30th birthday, knowing he won’t possess the good credit or mortgage most people that age have.
"It’s unfortunate that I’ve messed up the first important decade of my life," Durbin said. "I’ll be getting out fighting to get back my life."
Ambassador Auto Sales owner Nick Garulay, who totaled his losses because of Durbin at $13,450, called Durbin’s seven-year prison sentence "more than appropriate."
While Garulay said Durbin received a fair punishment befitting his multistate crimes, the passage of time has allowed a little appreciation for Durbin’s well-executed con. As in other states, Durbin cunningly presented himself to Ambassador Auto Sales staff as the wealthy son of a businessman, convincing dealership employees to trust him with test drives.
"The kid was extremely talented," Garulay said. "I almost want to hire him as a salesman because he was so good, but it’s unfortunate he ruined his young life."