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Feds drop charge against federal lockup escapee

This undated phoprovided by FBI shows Jose Banks one two inmates who escaped from Metropolitan  Correctional Center downtown Chicago

This undated photo provided by the FBI shows Jose Banks, one of two inmates who escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. | AP

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:24AM

Prison escape charges against Joseph “Jose” Banks have been dropped by the government — because the bank robber already faces a lifetime behind bars for a series of heists.

Banks busted out of his 17th floor cell at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center with fellow bank robber Kenneth Conley on Dec. 18 but was caught two days later on the North Side.

Already convicted and awaiting sentencing for four North Side heists, the so-called “Secondhand Bandit” was due to have a preliminary hearing on the escape charge Thursday. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Baker told Magistrate Judge Sidney Shenkier that the government was dropping the escape case because Banks, 37, was already “facing up to 80 years” behind bars.

An escape conviction carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Baker also cited the ongoing investigation into the escape as a factor. As of Thursday, Conley remains at large.

Prosecutors will still be able to use the escape attempt against Banks when he is sentenced for the bank robberies in March. They also are free to re-instate the escape charge at a later date, U.S. Attorney’s office spokesman Randall Samborn said.

Banks’ attorney, Beau Brindley, said Banks was happy with the decision to drop the escape charge but is “still facing an extremely long sentence.”

Banks, who smiled throughout the brief hearing Thursday, is not cooperating with the investigation of the escape, Brindley said. He has filed a motion for a retrial on the bank robbery charges, arguing that Banks was improperly allowed to represent himself at trial.

Banks’ daring escape — by lowering himself and his accomplice from their 17th floor window by bed-sheets tied together — made embarrassing headlines for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons last month.

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