When Russell Whitmore robbed a check-cashing store on Broad Street near 22nd in October 2005, he pointed his handgun at the head of one of the two female employees in the store and told her he had been following her and knew where she lived.

A federal judge yesterday called that an "act of urban terrorism," before sentencing Whitmore to 17 years in the slammer and five years' supervised release.

Before being sentenced, Whitmore told U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell: "I'm a kind, human, gentle person, and I took the wrong path."

Dalzell told Whitmore: "You're a young man and my profound hope is you'll learn from this and stop committing crime."

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Vicki Markovitz applauded the sentence.

"We're pleased when a judge reacts to horrible offenses the way Judge Dalzell did," Markovitz said.

J. Scott O'Keefe, Whitmore's attorney, said he did not intend to appeal the sentence.

"There's no basis for it," he said, adding that things might have turned out better for Whitmore had he chosen to cooperate with the feds, but he didn't.

Whitmore pleaded guilty last November to conspiracy, to two Hobbs Act robberies and to using a gun during a violent crime.

The sentence meted out by Dalzell was two years above the guideline range, which called for a prison term of 77 to 96 months plus a mandatory minimum seven years for brandishing a firearm while committing the robberies.

It is rare when judges impose sentences above the guideline range, particular in cases such as Whitmore's in which prosecutors didn't request it.

Before sentencing, Dalzell spoke passionately about the female employee that Whitmore terrorized.

"This is almost like a psychological hostage-taking, isn't it?" he asked Markovitz at one point. "How can that woman ever feel safe from this defendant and his friends?"

Whitmore, 23, of Philadelphia, has a long criminal history, with five juvenile and three adult convictions since he was 13.

"It's like the Energizer Bunny - it just keeps going and going and going," Dalzell said of Whitmore's criminal record, which included previous convictions for robbery and possession of crack.

The indictment said Whitmore and a co-defendant held up a UPS driver at gunpoint on 15th Street near York in September 2005, forced him to take off his UPS uniform shirt, stole his UPS identification badge and computer board, and threatened to kill him if he ran.

About a week later, the charging papers said Whitmore entered the Currency Now store on Broad armed with a handgun and wearing the purloined UPS uniform, pushing a hand truck and carrying a UPS computer board while three co-defendants pretended to be customers.

After pointing his gun at the head of one female employee, Whitmore forced his way into the back of the store and opened the security door to allow his cohorts to enter the rear of the store.

The two female employees were bound with string, and the robbers then looted the store's safe and fled with more than $18,000 in cash and $6,800 in SEPTA passes. *