Metro

Former Army Reservist pleads guilty to gun theft, escaping, trying to rob banks

James Morales was escorted into the Mass. State Police barracks in Medford in January.
Stanley Forman/WCVB
James Morales was escorted into the Mass. State Police barracks in Medford in January.

A former Army reservist who led police on a wild pursuit after escaping from federal prison has pleaded guilty to several charges, prosecutors said.

James W. Morales, 35, entered his plea in US District Court in Boston to charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm; possession of a machine gun; possession of stolen firearms; theft of government property; conspiracy to possess, store, conceal, and sell stolen weapons; escape; and attempted bank robbery, said Acting US Attorney William D. Weinreb’s office Monday.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 8.

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Morales, of Cambridge, began his crime wave in November 2015, when he broke into a weapons vault at the Lincoln Stoddard US Army Reserve Center in Worcester and stole six M-4 carbines and 10 M-11 handguns, Weinreb’s office said in a statement.

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Authorities tracked Morales to Long Island, where he was arrested four days later.

He was transferred to the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility and made a daring escape from the federal lockup on Dec. 31, 2016, prompting a five-day round-the-clock manhunt that ended when officials nabbed Morales after a foot chase in Somerville.

Prosecutors said he escaped from Wyatt by “climbing a basketball hoop, jumping onto a roof, and going through a barbed wire fence.”

Earlier on the day of his arrest, Morales had tried to rob two banks in Cambridge and Somerville.

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During the Cambridge incident, Morales passed a note to a teller that read “I WANT ALL OF THE LARGE DENOMINATIONS W/BAND’S FROM THE 2ND (BOTTOM) TILL NOW BE CALM – BE COOL – NO DYE PACKS,” the statement said.

The teller fled, and Morales left empty-handed.

Then at the Somerville bank, he passed another note to a teller that read, “I WANT THE MONEY IN THE TILL NOW!! 100’s 50’s 20’s Be Calm, Be Cool, be Quick,” prosecutors said.

The bank employee told Morales, “I can’t,” and the fugitive “wished the teller a nice day and exited the bank,” prosecutors said.

Federal officials say all of the stolen M-4 carbines have been recovered, but five of the handguns remain unaccounted for. Anyone with information on the missing weapons should call the FBI at 857-386-2000.

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The bureau is offering “a reward in connection with information that leads to their recovery,” the release said.

Morales is also facing state child rape charges that remain pending.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.