Gregory Paul Hess, the man suspected of being the "Polite Robber," was once known as the "Transaction Bandit" when he was convicted of a series of robberies in 2003.

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Gregory Paul Hess told a White Center gas-station owner a sob story about being out of work and needing cash for rent and food during an armed robbery on Saturday, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.

It’s the same story he spun nearly eight years ago when he was arrested for a string of bank robberies, according to federal court records.

But Hess, 65, was identified by people who saw a surveillance video from the gas station that clearly shows the robber’s face, said sheriff’s Sgt. John Urquhart.

Similarly, Hess was identified by former co-workers in 2003 after The Seattle Times published a photograph of a bank robber the FBI had nicknamed the “Transaction Bandit,” court records say. He pleaded guilty in 2004 and was sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison, the records say.

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Hess armed himself with a pellet gun in the gas-station holdup, said Urquhart, which was the same weapon used in the bank heists.

The man who held up the gas station around 11:30 a.m. Saturday west of White Center was dubbed the “Polite Robber” because he profusely thanked and apologized to his victim, owner John Henry, who released the surveillance video to the media.

Hess was arrested Monday and booked into the King County Jail on investigation of robbery, said Urquhart.

On federal probation for the earlier bank robberies, Hess was ordered held on $250,000 bail during a Tuesday court appearance, according to King County prosecutors. The deadline to file charges is Thursday.

Hess is accused of robbing Henry of $300 at gunpoint at the Shell station at 2805 S.W. Roxbury St., which is less than three miles from Hess’ basement apartment, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“I really am sorry to have to do this. If I ever get back on my feet again, sir, I’ll bring it back,” the robber, armed with what appears to be a black handgun, can be heard saying on a surveillance video.

The robber claimed he needed money to pay rent and to “feed his kids,” and can be seen on the video tucking a gun into his waistband and a wad of bills into his front pocket.

The video “went viral” and the Sheriff’s Office quickly identified Hess through telephone tips, Urquhart said. Henry later identified Hess in a photo montage, he said.

According to Urquhart, Hess wasn’t living with any children at the time of his arrest.

“Let’s not turn this guy into Robin Hood,” Urquhart said.

In 2003, the FBI in Seattle gave Hess the nickname “The Transaction Bandit” because he would ask bank tellers for small change before demanding all the cash in their drawers, according to federal court records. The Seattle Times published a story and photograph of the “Transaction Bandit” in May of that year and former co-workers who knew Hess from the Starbucks store in Seattle’s Madison Valley recognized his photo, the records say.

They called police after spotting Hess at the Harvard Market on Capitol Hill, according to court records.

At the time, Hess told an FBI agent he had quit his barista job just before Christmas 2002 and filed for unemployment benefits because he was having difficulty finding another job, court records say. Starbucks filed a complaint opposing his benefits, and so Hess “decided to commit a robbery to help cover his living expenses, such as rent and food,” according to court records.

“He felt armed robberies, as opposed to unarmed robberies, would likely make his victim more apt to comply with his demand” and so he went to a Ballard sporting-goods store and purchased “a pellet gun that looked like a real gun,” the records say.

Hess ultimately pleaded guilty to six armed robberies — one at a Crown Hill Blockbuster video store that netted him $200, followed by five bank robberies in Seattle and on the Eastside — and was ordered to pay $9,723 in restitution, the records show.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.