A bandit who used an imitation pistol to rob nine services stations and a sandwich store in a month to fuel a heroin addiction must spend at least three years in prison.

Walter Mariani struck at a string of petrol stations across Melbourne between November 27 and December 28 last year, using the fake gun to steal $5170 cash from terrified attendants.

Businesses in Mitcham, Burnley, Hawthorn East, Box Hill, Prahran and Fitzroy North were among those he targeted, along with a service station in Templestowe Lower on the night of Christmas Day and a Subway restaurant in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

The County Court heard on Wednesday that staff at the businesses no longer felt safe at work, had difficulty trusting people and were unable to work night shifts. One attendant said he no longer wanted to leave his home.

The court heard that Mariani used a fake gun because he did not want to harm anyone, but judge Geoffrey Chettle said the victims believed the weapon was real and had been terrified.

“Your conduct terrorised your victims, the attendants, even if the weapon wasn’t real. It appeared real to them and you acted in a way that made them believe it was very real,” he told Mariani.

Mariani, 45, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of armed robbery, one of attempted robbery and one of possessing a prohibited weapon.

The court heard that the former cabinet maker and pizza delivery man had previously suffered five heart attacks and used heroin to self-medicate angina. His time in prison would be made more difficult because of his health problems.

Judge Chettle said Mariani’s attempts at staying drug-free since his arrest were encouraging toward his future rehabilitation.

He imposed a jail term of four years and nine months, with a non-parole period of three years.

Mariani, formerly of Doncaster East, has spent almost 180 days in custody since his arrest.

Extracted in full from The Age.