A young man from St. Philip's who found himself in debt to drug dealers over a spiralling cocaine habit has been sent to jail for two bank robberies that startled the St. John's area last year.

Scott Cleary, 21, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

Cleary masked his face and used a knife to hold up a Bank of Montreal branch on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John's last April, stealing as much as $5,000.

In May, he struck an RBC branch in Torbay, stealing as much as $2,000.

Court had been told that Cleary owed drug dealers between $8,000 and $10,000. To cover his debts, Cleary gave dealers access to more than $2,000 of scratch lottery tickets from a store where he worked.

Cleary turned to robbing banks to keep up his payments.

Judge James Walsh told Cleary that he could have been given a sentence of six and a half years.

However, Walsh said he needed to "mindful [that the] sentence might be too harsh and crushing, that it could be so long that all hope of rehabilitation would be lost."

Walsh noted that Cleary is young, admitted to everything that he had done, co-operated with the police and apologized for what he did to his victims.

Meanwhile, Cleary's accomplice in the Torbay bank robbery is awaiting sentencing. Brenna Gillespie, 20, has pleaded guilty, and is expected to attend a scheduling hearing in April.