‘Palm Tree Bandits’ linked to violent bank takeover robberies in Arcadia, San Marino, Santa Monica

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Recent takeover robberies at banks in Arcadia, San Marino and Santa Monica have been linked to a pair of serial robbers the FBI has dubbed, “The Palm Tree Bandits,” authorities said Friday.
The robbers, who earned their moniker due to baseball caps emblazoned with palm tree logos they wore during the crimes, struck Thursday at a First Bank branch, 848 W. Duarte Road in Arcadia, as well as July 28 at a One West Bank at 900 Huntington Drive in San Marino, and July 18 at a Banc of California at 2635 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, FBI officials said in a written statement.
The FBI described the crimes as “violent takeover robberies.”
0806_NWS_PSN-L-BANDITS2“They are considered armed and dangerous,” according to the FBI statement. “At least one suspect brandishes a handgun during the robberies.”
In Thursday’s robbery in Arcadia, the robbers donned surgical masks, latex gloves and orange construction vests during the heist. In other robberies, the robbers’ faces were uncovered and recorded by bank surveillance cameras.
Both robbers were armed with handguns during the Arcadia crime, Lt. Tom Cullen said.
In the San Marino robbery, only one of the robbers was seen with a gun, San Marino police Detective Brian Wong said. The suspect fled the area in a red SUV.
0806_NWS_PSN-L-BANDITS4The FBI has teamed with Arcadia, San Marino and Santa Monica police in the investigation.
Officials described the bandits as two black men between 20 and 30 years old.
One is about 5 feet 9 inches tall and of thin build. The second robber is of heavy build.
Anyone with information is asked to contact local police, or the FBI’s 24-hour Los Angeles-area tip line at 310-477-6565.

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PHOTOS courtesy of the FBI

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Masked men rob Arcadia bank


ARCADIA >> Two men wearing surgical masks and orange construction vests robbed an Arcadia bank branch Thursday afternoon, authorities said.
The heist took place about 1:15 p.m. at the First Bank, 848 W. Duarte Road, according to Arcadia police Lt. Tom Cullen.
Both robbers brandished handguns as they demanded cash from a teller and fled with an undisclosed amount of cash, the lieutenant said.
They were last seen running from the bank. No getaway car was seen.
Police described both robbers as black men, between 20 and 30 years old, about 5 feet 7 inches tall and of thin build. According to initial reports from the scene, they wore surgical style masks, latex gloves and orange construction-style vests.
Anyone with information is urged to contact Arcadia police at 626-674-5151 in reference to case 1604107. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Marine from Arcadia killed in Twentynine Palms jet fighter crash

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TWENTYNINE PALMS >> A jet fighter pilot killed in a crash during a training exercise in Twentynine Palms on Thursday has been identified as a 36-year-old Arcadia man, the U.S. Marines announced Saturday.
Third Marine Aircraft Wing pilot Maj. Richard “Stranger” Norton died in the F/A-18C Hornet crash, which took place about 10:30 a.m. Thursday near the Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, U.S. Marine Corps officials said in a written statement.
Norton was based out of Third Marine Aircraft Wing based in Miramar. He was a pilot in Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, Marine Aircraft Group 11.
Col. William Swan, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 11, offered his thoughts and prayers to Norton’s family.
“Losing Maj. Norton is a tremendous loss to the MAG-11 Team,” he said. “He was one of the best and brightest Hornet pilots our nation had to offer.”
Maj. Mark Wise, commanding general of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, also offered his condolences to the fallen Marine’s loved ones.
“Me heart goes out to our Marine’s family as we supported them through this difficult time,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Wise,
Norton had taken off from Miramar to conduct close air support as part of a pre-deployment training exercise when the crash occurred, according to the Marine Corps statement. The cause of the crash remained under investigation.
Norton was commissioned in the Marine Corps in March of 2005, officials said.
He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and he deployed multiple times to Japan, officials said.
He is a recipient of the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, as well as the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with gold star.

PHOTO of Maj. Richard Norton courtesy of the U.S. Marines.

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Suspect identified in slaying of San Dimas sandwich shop owner

"LASD Lieutenant David Coleman of the Homicide Bureau speaks during a press conference seeking the publicÕs assistance in locating the suspect involved in the murder of San Dimas Quiznos sandwich shop proprietor Pravin Patel that occurred on Tuesday, June 2 at 3:20 p.m. in the 1000 block of West Arrow Highway. Patel, was shot after being robbed at gunpoint in his restaurant. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune) "

“LASD Lieutenant David Coleman of the Homicide Bureau speaks during a press conference seeking the publicÕs assistance in locating the suspect involved in the murder of San Dimas Quiznos sandwich shop proprietor Pravin Patel that occurred on Tuesday, June 2 at 3:20 p.m. in the 1000 block of West Arrow Highway. Patel, was shot after being robbed at gunpoint in his restaurant. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

SAN DIMAS >> Homicide detectives have identified a man already in custody for a custody in connection with armored car robberies and the shooting of an armored car driver as the alleged gunman in the fatal shooting of a San Dimas sandwich shop owner in San Dimas last year, authorities announced Friday.
Sergey Gutsu, 24, is suspected in the June 2, 2015, slaying of Pravin “Peter” Patel during a robbery at the Quiznos shop Patel owned and operated at 1034 W. Arrow Highway in San Dimas, Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.
He is already in custody in Sonoma County, where he and alleged accomplice Ivan Morales, 24, are accused of shooting an armored car driver during a robbery in Windsor on Tuesday, then fired shots at deputies during a chase that preceded their ultimate arrests, according to Sonoma and Los Angeles county sheriff’s officials.
“During the course of the investigation, “(Violent Crimes Investigation Unit) detectives developed information that Gutsu and Morales were likely involved in other crimes throughout the state,” Sonoma County sheriff’s Sgt. Cecile Focha said in a written statement.
“Although we cannot divulge specific details of the investigations, we are confident that one or both are responsible for an armored car robbery in Granada Hills and a robbery/homicide in San Dimas.”
Los Angeles County homicide detectives met with Gutsu in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, officials said.
“During the interview, the suspect admitted to being involved in the murder of victim Patel,” Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
Morales had not been linked to the San Dimas slaying, Corina said.
Q2In the San Dimas case, Patel was working behind the counter when a gunman robbed the sandwich shop, Lt. David Coleman of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at the time.
Patel turned over the money from the register, amounting to no more than a few hundred dollars, when the robber threatened to shoot two customers inside the store, officials said.
But once the robber left, Patel followed him outside and became involved in a struggle with the robber, Corina said. The gunman opened fire, mortally wounding Patel.
Patel, 62, described by Coleman as a “loving, kind man,” worked alongside his wife at the family restaurant.
Authorities released a composite sketch of the killer and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors authorized a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of Patel’s killer. But the gunman remained elusive, and unidentified, until he implicated himself in the slaying on Tuesday, Corina said.
A gun seized from Gutsu at the time of his arrest in Sonoma County is of the same caliber used in Patel’s killing, Corina said. Forensic testing was pending to determined whether the weapons were one and the same.
Gutsu grew up in Arcadia, and more recently split his time between southern and northern California, Corina said.
According to Sonoma County booking records, Gutsu remains in custody without bail on charges of robbery attempted murder, along with special allegations that he personally used a gun.
The investigation into his alleged crimes in Los Angeles County and elsewhere remained ongoing, officials said.
“We’re still working our case and putting it together,” Corina said.

PHOTO of victim Pravin Patel, below (courtesy)

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Elderly couple robbed in their Arcadia home


ARCADIA >> A burglary turned into a robbery late Tuesday after an elderly couple awoke to find three intruders in their bedroom demanding valuables, police said.
The crime took place about 10:55 p.m. in the 500 block of West Live Oak Avenue, Arcadia police Sgt. Kirk Pedersen said in a written statement.
Two elderly victims were home sleeping when they awoke to three suspects in their bedroom,” Pederson said. “The suspects demanded cash and jewelry.”
No weapons were seen.
The intruders fled the home with an undetermined amount of money and jewelry, Lt. Colleen Flores said. It was determined they had entered the home through an unlocked rear sliding door.
The victims, who were in there 70s and 80s, suffered “minor injuries” during the incident, though it was not initially clear how they were hurt, officials added.
Police described the robbers as three men between 20 and 30 years old.
One had a dark complexion, stood about 5 feet 5 inches tall, was of thin build, and wore a hooded sweat shirt. The two additional robbers were further described as wearing dark clothing.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Arcadia police as 626-574-5151 in reference to case 1603602. Tips may also be subm9itted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Pasadena woman taken for psychiatric evaluation following window smash spree in Sierra Madre, Arcadia

Police took a woman for psychiatric evaluation after a rock-throwing vandalism spree that caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to cars and buildings in Sierra Madre and Arcadia early Saturday.
The woman, a 35-year-old Pasadena resident, was expected to face vandalism charges once released from the hospital, Sierra Madre police officials said in a written statement.
The alleged rock rampage unfolded between about 7 and a.m., officials said.
Sierra Madre police received reports that the windows of three buildings and one car in their city had been smashed with rocks.
“While officers from the Sierra Madre Police Department were investigating the incidents, they soon learned that numerous locations were also vandalized with rocks in the City of Arcadia,” according to the statement.
Several cars at the Westfield Santa Anita shopping mall, another car at the north end of Arcadia and a glass door at the Arboretum had also had their windows smashed with rocks, Arcadia police Sgt. Dan Crowther said.
Crowther spotted a car matching the description of the Sierra Madre vandal driving in Arcadia about 8 a.m., he said. He pulled over the car and detained the woman driving without incident.
“(A) witness positively identified the vehicle and the female driver as the one seen leaving the scene of one of the vandalisms that occurred in Sierra Madre,” the Sierra Madre police statement said. “During an inventory search of the suspect’s vehicle, numerous rocks — similar to the rocks found at the above crime scenes — were located inside the cab of the car.”
Police in Arcadia were still seeking witnesses Sunday to link the woman to the vandalisms in their city, Crowther said.
The woman appeared to be suffering from psychiatric issues and was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, officials said.
She faces potential charges of felony vandalism once released from treatment, police added.
The value of the damage in Sierra Madre was estimated at more than $3,000. An estimate of the damage in Arcadia was not available.

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Man robbed at Arcadia motel after trying to meet escort


ARCADIA >> A man who showed up at an Arcadia motel to meet an escort ended up getting robbed Wednesday evening, authorities said.
Niyah Brooklyn Milan, 22, of Chicago was booked on suspicion of robbery and false imprisonment shorty after the 7:30 p.m. incident at the Santa Anita Inn, 130 W. Huntington Drive, Arcadia police Lt. Tom Cullen said.
The victim reported he went to the motel to meet with a female escort he had met through an online service, the lieutenant said.
But when he arrived, Milan was in the room, dressed in female attire, rather than the escort the victim had conversed with online.
“The victim attempted to leave, but the suspect blocked his path,” Cullen said. Milan then claimed to be armed with a gun, though none was seen, and demanded the victim’s money.
The victim then left the motel and called police, who soon arrested Milan at the motel and recovered the victim’s cash, Cullen said. The victim was unharmed.
It was not clear whether Milan identified as female permanently, or donned female attire for the purpose of the alleged crime.
According to Los Angeles County booking records, Milan was being held in lieu of $50,000 pending a scheduled arraignment hearing Friday in Pasadena Superior Court.

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UPDATED: Couple sought following Arcadia beer run, hit-and-run crashes

Arcadia’s own Bonnie & Clyde:

ARCADIA >> A liquor-loving man and woman carried out a beer run in Arcadia Saturday before crashing their car nearby and continuing to flee on foot, police said.
The incident began about 5:30 with a report of an alcohol theft from Royal Oaks Liquors, 511 N. 1st Ave., Arcadia police Lt. Tom Cullen said.
A man and woman took various alcoholic beverages from the store without paying, then fled in a silver Nissan Altima, the lieutenant said.
Within minutes, police received word of a hit-and-run collision a block to the west at Colorado Boulevard and Santa Anita Avenue, he said.
A silver Nissan believed to be the same one involved in the liquor store theft struck another vehicle, Cullen said. No injuries were reported.
“While attempting to flee the scene of the initial collision, the suspects were involved in a second collision just north of the intersection,” he said. Their car struck a chain that was hung across a private parking lot.
“The suspects abandoned the vehicle and fled the area,” Cullen said. Officers searched the area, but did not find them.
Police described one of the thieves as a Latino man in his 20s, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, of medium build, with a shaved head. He wore shorts.
He was accompanies by a Latina woman between 18 and 20, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, 130 pounds, with hair dyed red and pulled back. She wore painted-on red eyelashes, a black T-shirt and burgundy pants.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Arcadia police at 626-574-5150. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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Men sought in counter-hopping cough syrup theft at Arcadia pharmacy

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ARCADIA >> Police are seeking two men who hopped a pharmacy counter to steal bottles of codeine-laden cough syrup last week.
The crime took place about 9:30 p.m. on May 25 at CVS Pharmacy, 1401 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia police Lt. Roy Nakamura said in a written statement.
“As one suspect distracted a pharmacist with a ‘consultation,’ the second suspect jumped the pharmacy counter and moved directly to a supply of bottled promethazine (with) codeine cough syrup,” Nakamura said. “He grabbed a number of bottles and placed them in a brown bag. Both suspects then ran out of the store through an emergency exit.”
No getaway car was seen.
Police released store surveillance camera images of the thieves Thursday in hopes of generating leads.
Both suspects were described as white or Latino men between 20 and 30 years old. One stood 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed about 130 pounds, while the other was about 6 feet tall and 160 pounds.
Anyone with information can reach Arcadia police at 626-574-5150 in reference to Case No. 16002821. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

SURVEILLANCE CAMERA photos courtesy of the Arcadia Police Department

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Man robs Arcadia Walgreens of baby formula


ARCADIA >> A shoplifting turned into a robbery Sunday when a man stealing more than $100 worth of baby formula from an Arcadia Walgreens store threatened to shoot an employee who tried to intervene, authorities said.
The incident unfolded about 2:40 p.m. at Walgreens, 140 Live Oak Ave., Arcadia police Sgt. John Bonomo said.
A man left the store without paying for the baby formula and was confronted by a store employee, the sergeant said.
The robber threatened to retrieve a gun and fled, he said.
He was described as a black man, 20 to 30 years old, about 6 feet 1 inch tall and of thin build, Bonomo said.
He got into a green, four-door car believed to have a Nevada license plate, he said. It was driven by a black woman in her 20s or 30s heading south on Tyler Avenue.
Anyone with information can reach Arcadia police at 626-574-5151.

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