SARASOTA, Fla. — Raymond Scott Norman led two lives — one as a roofer, the other as the notorious Crowbar Bandit. In three years, he says he robbed 30 banks and stole $500,000.

Frustrated, 150 law enforcement officers joined forces, staked out 90 Tampa Bay-area banks and finally nabbed him.

Now that it's over, Norman is relieved. The money bought him an easy life, but something was missing.

He found what he was looking for in an unlikely place.

"For the first time, I feel free," he said in a jailhouse interview.

"I was a professional thief all my life. I was done. I was tired of everything — the drinking, the drugs and robbing banks. I was waiting to get caught. I didn't have the strength to quit."

Norman, a 45-year-old who picked up the crowbar moniker because of the weapon he used in many of the heists, faces multiple bank robbery charges in a half-dozen counties up and down Florida's Gulf Coast. He is being held without bond in Sarasota, where he was arrested Jan. 16.

Norman admitted to 30 robberies. He even owned up to robberies that authorities hadn't connected to him.

"The day they caught me, I said, 'I'm glad it's over,' " Norman said.

His public defender has entered a not guilty plea, for now, and a hearing is scheduled April 24. He could get 10 years in prison on each count.

Norman was patient, a rare trait for a thief, said Sheriff's Cpl. Paul Martin in Pinellas County, where Norman is accused of robbing eight banks, at least three of them twice. And he told no one. Even his girlfriend didn't know.

Over the years, Norman worked as a plumber, landscaper, painter and roofer. But he soon found out that robbing banks paid better. "It was hard to go back to work after that," he said.

He carried a crowbar from the trunk of his red 1986 Camaro as his only weapon for 18 months. One day he caught it in the car door and bent it so badly he couldn't use it anymore. Then he started carrying a gun.

Manatee County Sheriff's Sgt. John Kenney said Norman was smart, consistent and learned from his mistakes.

He picked banks where women worked and there was an easy escape route. The targets were isolated from other businesses or near establishments such as funeral homes where a robbery wasn't expected.

"I only robbed when I needed money," he said. "I had $24 in my pocket when I was ready to do the last one."

Sometimes, after shedding the black stocking mask and checkered shirt he wore during heists, he would drive by the bank. "I could be sitting there at a red light, watching them investigate."

How did he evade capture for so long?

"I was good at my job. It was hard work; days of surveillance, days of work for one bank. The law is not easy to beat. They were doing their job. I was trying to do mine a little better."

Police say luck played a part, too.

Once Norman parked beneath a surveillance camera, but it was broken. Another time he parked at a storage facility with a good security system. It was so complicated no one knew how to turn it on.

He robbed one bank while a narcotics team was doing surveillance in a parking lot and another beneath a Florida Department of Law Enforcement office.

At a supermarket someone had forgotten to load videotape in the camera that day. And an ATM camera with a good view was disconnected.

Norman said his biggest haul was $33,000; his smallest $7,000 or $8,000.

Police recovered no cash. Norman made house and car payments, gambled, snorted cocaine, drank and occasionally bought rounds of drinks.

"It was not living the high life," Martin said. "A bank robber who stole half a million dollars and he was driving an '86 car."

When he was arrested, a mask and a loaded .38-caliber semi automatic pistol were next to him on the front seat. Norman publicly apologized to the tellers he had terrorized.

Police said he kicked one teller and pointed a gun at the belly of a pregnant teller — claims Norman adamantly denies.

"I never hurt no one, ever," he said over and over during the jailhouse interview.

"I can imagine the fear I put in their (tellers) lives, and I am sorry," he said. "They didn't know I wasn't going to hurt them."