IOWA >> A heavily-armed serial bank robber known as the “AK-47 Bandit,” who shot and wounded a Chino police officer during a bank robbery three years ago at the outset of a nationwide crime spree, struck again Tuesday in Iowa, according to the FBI.
The bandit showed up at the Heartland Community Credit Union in Mason City, Iowa, Tuesday morning, armed with his usual AK-47-style rifle fitted with a large-capacity drum magazine, FBI officials said in a written statement.
“ Based on witness descriptions, surveillance photos and other indicators, agents and detectives jointly investigating this case in multiple jurisdictions (and) states believe the Mason City suspect is the same individual linked to the violent series of bank robberies attributed to the ‘AK-47 Bandit,’ which brings the total number of linked robberies to seven,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
The spree of bank heists began on Feb. 29, 2012, when the bandit robbed the California Bank and Trust, 5455 Riverside Drive, and shot a Chino police officer while making his getaway.
Robberies and attempted robberies throughout California and the nation have since been linked to the bank robbery.
He’s believed to be responsible for crimes in Chino, Vacaville, Sacramento, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska, and now Iowa, according to the FBI.
$100,000 in reward money has been offered for information leading to the capture and conviction of the AK-47 bandit. The FBI has offered $75,000 in reward money, Eimileer said, while other parties have added an additional $25,000.
Officials have described the robber as a white in his 20s to 40s, 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet tall, of medium build, woith possibly blue eyes. He generally wears a black ski mask and gloves and carries the assault rifle which gave him his moniker.
Anyone with information can reach the FBI in Los Angeles at 310-477-6565.
The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a fake beard-clad serial bank robber dubbed “The Bluto Bandit” who has robbed or been spotted at six banks throughout Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties over the past week.
The bandit has robbed Chase bank branches in Pasadena, Duarte and Ontario, and has been seen “casing” other branches in Monrovia, Chino and Fontana, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
In each case, the bandit wore a thick, black, curly fake beard, prompting investigators to nickname him the Bluto Bandit, inspired by the bearded villain in the “Popeye” comic strip, Eimiller said.
He robbed a Chase bank at 3870 Foothill Boulevard in an unincorporated county area near Pasadena about 2:35 p.m. Tuesday, then robbed another Chase bank at 1000 Huntington Drive in Duarte about half an hour later, Eimiller said. The robber was also seen casing a Monrovia bank in between the two robbers, as well as a Fontana bank later in the afternoon.
In the Pasadena and Monrovia heists, the robber quietly approached tellers and handed over notes demanding cash, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Loy McBride said.
“He didn’t really even speak,” the lieutenant said.
But the serial bandit’s crime spree began June 10, when he robbed a Chase bank at 1070 N. Mountain Avenue in Ontario, according to the FBI. He was spotted casing a Chino Chase bank two days later.
Investigators described the robber as a Latino man, 28 to 30 years old, about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 195 pounds. In all of the crimes, he wore his fake beard and a blue, long-sleeve Pendleton-style shirt.
He’s been spotted getting into a white, newer-model Volkswagen Jetta with tinted windows and final three license plate digits of “665.”
No weapon has been seen during the crimes.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the FBI Los Angeles Office at 310-477-6565.
PHOTOS from robberies in Duarte (above) and unincorporated Pasadena (below) courtesy of the FBI.
ALHAMBRA >> A judge sentenced a Chino man to 374 years to life in prison Thursday for a spree of follow-home robberies targeting lone Asian women throughout the San Gabriel Valley in 2011, officials said.
An Alhambra Superior Court convicted Jose Lewis Avila, 33, of nine counts of robbery, one count of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of dissuading a witness from reporting a crime and one count of child abuse. The 12 charges stem from a eight incidents in March and April of 2011, investigators said.
Three robberies, one of which involved two victims, occurred in Alhambra, officials said. Three of he robberies occurred in San Gabriel, one occurred in Arcadia and one took place in Monterey Park.
“The defendant targeted women driving alone,” according to the district attorney’s office statement. “Once the victims arrived at their homes, Avila accosted them and demanded their money and property. During each robbery, the defendant used a BB gun and covered his face with a bandana or mask.
But detectives managed to identify Avila the culprit in the crimes through surveillance video and credit card charges, officials said.
Additionally, Avila’s “unique” and “pretty” eyes helped victims point him out as their attacker, said Deputy District Attorney David Ayvazian, who prosecuted the case with Deputy District Attorney Gabriel Kim.
Avila was convicted of a similar string of crimes in 2005, Ayvazian said.
The assault with a deadly weapon charge was the result of Avila shooting one of his victims in the face with a BB gun during a robbery in Arcadia, officials said. He also threatened a witness not to contact the police, leading to the charge of dissuading a witness. And one of the robbery victims was holding a child in her arms during the crime, resulting in the charge of child abuse.
According to district attorney’s officials, the jury also found true special allegations that Avila used a deadly and dangerous weapon, the BB gun, in his crimes, and that he inflicted great bodily injury.
PHOTO of Jose Avila, 33, of Chino, courtesy of the Alhambra Police Department.
CHINO >> Several people died in a fiery three-car wreck in Chino late Friday, authorities said.
The crash took place about 8:45 p.m. on Pine Avenue, between Euclid Avenue and Chino Corona Road, Chino spokeswoman Monica Gutierrez said.
Due to the violent and fiery nature of the crash, it was not clear how many people were killed as the investigation continued into the early morning hours Saturday, Gutierrez said. One person survived the wreck with injuries not believed to be life-threatening.
“Three vehicles were involved, two of which were completely engulfed in flames,” Gutierrez said. “I can confirm that we have multiple fatalities, however we do not know the exact number.”
There was no initial word on the cause of the collision.
No further details were available.
The boyfriend of an accused bank robber has been arrested on suspicion of robbing a West Covina bank, police said.
Two Bank of the West locations in Chino and West Covina were robbed on consecutive days this month.
The Chino location was robbed July 14 by a woman wearing hospital scrubs. On July 25, Rafaella Benoit, 18, of Perris was arrested and later charged with robbery in connection with the July 14 robbery.
On Wednesday, Chino police announced the arrest of Benoit’s supposed boyfriend.
Douglas Beale Taylor, 22, allegedly robbed Bank of the West in West Covina on July 15, the day after the Chino bank robbery.
Police said Taylor executed the robbery in the same manner as his girlfriend — by slipping a note demanding money and escaping with an undisclosed amount of money.
Surveillance video linked Douglas to the West Covina robbery, Chino police said in a statement.
Officers from the Chino and West Covina police departments arrested Taylor on Tuesday at his Moreno Valley home. He was booked into the West Covina Police Department’s jail on suspicion of robbery and conspiracy, police said.
“During an interview, Taylor admitted to robbing the West Covina Bank of the West as well as being the getaway driver for the Chino Bank of the West robbery,” according to police.
– By Greg Cappis
UPDATE: Investigators determined the report of a kidnapping was false. The involved person may have psychiatric trouble, per officials.
A man was rescued from the trunk of his car near Crystal Lake early Sunday after being carjacked and kidnapped in Chino, authorities said.
U.S. Forest Service officials discovered the man, estimated to be about 30 years old, about 9:30 a.m. in the trunk of his car which was parked along San Gabriel Canyon Road near Crystal Lake, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Rob Upham said. He was taken to a hospital with unknown injuries, though he was conscious and able to speak with investigators.
The investigation into the incident remained in it’s early stages, however the man indicated he was carjacked in the area of Riverside Drive and Central Avenue some time after 8 p.m. Saturday night, Upham said.
Sheriff’s deputies secured the scene in the forest and turned over the investigation to Chino police.
WALNUT — A Chino man suffered major injuries and is suspected of drunken driving after rear-ending a big rig on the 60 Freeway, which then fled the scene early Saturday, authorities said.
Christopher Oviedo, 20, was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and hospitalized in stable condition following the 6 a.m. crash on the westbound 60 Freeway, just east of Fairway Drive, California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Christopher said in a written statement.
He was driving a 2000 Jeep Cherokee at an unknown speed in the No. 3 lane prior to the crash, the officer said. A big rig was traveling ahead of Oviedo in the No. 4 lane.
“For an unknown reason, Mr. Oviedo turned his car to the right and entered the No. 4 lane where it collided with the rear of the big rig,” Christopher said.
The Jeep spun out of control and ended up crashing into the metal guardrail along the north side of the freeway, he said. He became trapped in the vehicle and had to be freed from the wreckage by Los Angeles County firefighters.
Oviedo, who was not wearing a seat belt, suffered “major facial injuries,” in the crash.
A description of the big rig was not available.
Witnesses were encouraged to contact the Baldwin Park office of the CHP during normal business hours at 626-338-1164. After hours, the CHP can be reached at 323-982-4900.
MONTEREY PARK — Police are seeking a wanted parolee and a second man in connection with a series of auto break-ins targeting the cars of parents as they drop their children off at San Gabriel Valley day care centers, authorities said.
Brian Gilbert Renteria, 25, and Jerry Angelino Ristich, 27, have been linked to three such burglaries at Alhambra day care centers in January and February, and were being investigated in connection with additional crimes in other cities including Arcadia and Chino, Monterey Park police Lt. Carrie Mazelin said. Renteria is described as a transient believed to be staying in San Gabriel Valley motels, while Ristich is a Monterey Park resident.
Renteria, who has previously been convicted of kidnapping, has absconded from parole supervision and is considered armed and dangerous, officials said.
An alleged accomplice of the men, 20-year-old Tamara Rios of West Covina, was arrested Feb. 13 in connection with one of the auto burglaries, which took place in the 300 block of North Alhambra Avenue, according to Monterey Park police and Los Angeles County booking records. She has since been released on bond.
In the day care center burglaries, the thieves smashed the windows of vehicle of parents whowere escorting their kids to day care and left valuables, such as designer purses, in plain sight, Mazelin said.
After identifying Renteria and Ristich as suspects in the crimes, police recently found and impounded Renteria’s 1999 Dodge Durango, in which more apparently stolen property was recovered, Mazelin said. Police were still working to locate the victims.
After stealing items from cars, the suspects used stolen credit cards throughout the San Gabriel Valley, officials said.
Renteria is described as Latino, 6 feet 2 inches tall, 230-300 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes, police said. He has the letters “SSG” tattooed on the right side of his face.
Ristich is described as Latino, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 190 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.
Anyone with information is advised not to approach the men, but to call police immediately.
PHOTOS of Brian Renteria and Jerry Ristich courtesy of the Monterey Park Police Department.
The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of a “heavily armed and dangerous” serial bank robber known as the AK-47 Bandit, who began his multi-state criminal career with a Chino bank heist in which he shot a police officer.
The reward for the robber was increased from $20,000 to $50,000 following what was believed to be his his fifth crime Wednesday in Idaho, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
The bandit earned his moniker because of the weaponry he has carried during the crimes — an AK-47 style rifle fixed with a large drum magazine. He’s also been seen wearing a black ski mask, body armor and a vest emblazoned with the word, “Sheriff.”
“This suspect is considered heavily armed and dangerous, and individuals who may come into contact with him are advised to contact law enforcement immediately and refrain from taking independent action to apprehend the suspect,” Eimiller said.
In Wednesday’s heist in Rexburg, Idaho, the bandit ordered employees and customer into a vault while brandishing his trademark weapon, FBI officials said.
The AK-47 Bandit has also been linked to a Vacaville bank robbery on March 12, a North Bend, Washington robbery on July 6 and a failed March 9 heist at a Sacramento bank.
FBI officials described the bandit as a white man between 25 and 40, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, 180 to 220 pounds and of stocky build. In addition to his body armor and sheriff’s vest, the robber has been seen wearing a black coat with a hood, black gloves and baggy Levi jeans during the crimes.
At least three different getaway vehicles have been reported in connection with the robberies.
In the Chino robbery, which is believed to be the first in the spree, someone called police to make bomb threat at the south end of town, Chino Police Chief Miles Pruitt said in the days following the heist and shooting.
The call was made from a pay phone in the vicinity of the bank, Eimiller said.
“Investigators believe the suspect employed a diversionary tactic in an attempt to delay officers responding to the Chino bank robbery,” she added.
It was not clear if the bomb threat was made by the bandit himself or an accomplice.
Recognizing the bomb threat may have been a distraction, other patrol officers also began checking on local banks, Pruitt said.
A Chino patrol officer spotted the assault rifle-wielding bandit exiting the California Bank & Trust about 10:50 a.m., officials said.
The bandit immediately opened fire, striking his patrol car numerous times and wounding the officer, Pruitt said.
The officers was seriously wounded, though the injury was not life-threatening, police said. He remains on light duty as a result of the injury.
Anyone with information regarding the AK-47 bandit is asked to contact their local FBI office or call 9-1-1 immediately.