LOS ANGELES >> A prolific serial bank robbery suspect known as the “Bluto Bandit” who was arrested following an ill-fated heist in South Pasadena Thursday has been charged in federal court, officials said Saturday.
Joseph Adel Noriega, 37, of Rancho Cucamonga is accused of eight bank robberies and attempted bank robberies, as well as numerous other incidents of “casing,” spanning Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties since June 10, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
His alleged crime spree came to an end Thursday after he tried, unsuccessfully to rob a South Pasadena bank before being captured minutes later by police in neighboring San Marino, according to South Pasadena police Cpl. Shannon Robledo.
Federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint Friday charging Noriega with the South Pasadena crime.
“However, the investigation is continuing and Noriega potentially faces additional charges,” FBI officials said in a written statement.
Crime attributed to the serial bandit have been reported in cities including Monrovia, Duarte, unincorporated Pasadena, Ontario, Chino, Norco, Fontana and Beaumont.
The FBI labeled the then-unidentified robber the Bluto Bandit due to a black fake beard he wore during the crimes, reminding investigators of the villain in the Popeye comic strips, Eimiller said.
The Bluto Bandit’s tactic, or modus operandi, was to pass a note demanding cash to bank tellers, officials said.
“In some robberies, the note advised the teller to remain calm; to remove the money within 15 or 30 seconds; or to avoid deploying security devices,” according to the FBI statement. “The suspect generally did not talk during the robberies.”
When San Marino police apprehended Noriega following a brief car chase Thursday, officers found evidence linking him to the crime spree, including bank robbery demand notes, officials said.
He was still wearing his trademark fake beard, Robledo added.
Noriega appeared in federal court in Los Angeles Friday and was remanded to federal custody pending trial, officials said.
Bank surveillance photo courtesy of the FBI.
AZUSA >> Investigators suspect suicide after the body of a 53-year-old Monrovia man was found inside a car parked outside an Azusa business Thursday afternoon, police said.
A business owner called police shortly before 3 p.m. after finding, “what appeared to be a deceased male seated in a parked vehicle on the street,” in the 900 block of West 10th Street, Azusa police Cpl. Tom Avila said in a written statement.
Paramedics pronounced the man dead at the scene, he said. An autopsy was pending, but it appeared the man had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
A barbecue had been lit inside his vehicle, Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner Assistant Chief of Operations Ed Winter said.
“A check of the vehicle’s information revealed it was associated with a suicidal male who was reported missing to the Monrovia Police Department on (Tuesday),” Avila said.
MONROVIA >> Detectives arrested a suspect Thursday in the slaying of a 31-year-old Monrovia woman found dead inside her car in June, officials said.
Investigators arrested Jose Roberto Turner, 47, about 8:30 a.m., on suspicion of the murder of Lajoya McCoy, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
McCoy was reported missing June 15, one day before officials found her body inside her car, which was parked in the 200 block of West Cypress Avenue, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said at the time.
“He is the ex-boyfriend of Lajoya McCoy,” Deputy Ryan Rouzan of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau said in a written statement.
No further details were released regarding the investigation into the alleged slaying of the mother of two.
McCoy’s official cause of death has not been released due to a “security hold” placed on the case by sheriff’s investigators, coroner’s officials said. The security hold, which bars coroner’s officials from discussing their findings, remained in effect Thursday.
Turner was being held without bail pending his initial court appearance, records show.
McCoy’s body appeared to have been left in her Toyota Camry for a period of time, though officials have declined to say exactly when McCoy is believed to have been killed. Detectives initially noted signs of a struggle at McCoy’s apartment, but declined to give further detail.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
MONROVIA >> Two young men attacked a passing driver in a failed robbery Tuesday afternoon, police said.
A man in his 40s was making a turn onto a side street from the 1300 block of South Myrtle Avenue about 6:10 p.m. when he stopped for a young man of 17 to 19 years old who was crossing the street on a skateboard, Monrovia police Sgt. Dan Verna said.
As the skateboarder passed by, a second young man approached the driver and demanded money, telling the driver that he almost struck his friend, Verna said.
The driver refused and the would-be robber punched him in the face and again demanded money, the sergeant said. The driver sped away.
Police searched the area but did not find the suspect, Verna said.
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.
MONROVIA >> A man burned himself while allegedly trying to manufacture synthetic marijuana at a Monrovia home on New Year’s Day, authorities said.
The incident was first reported about 8:10 p.m. Thursday as a small fire at a home in the 100 block of E. Fig Avenue, Monrovia police Lt. Nick Manfredi said. A man was taken to a hospital with burns to his face and hands.
Officials determined the man had been using volatile chemicals as part of a process to create synthetic marijuana, or “spice,” the lieutenant said. “A lit cigarette caused the solution to ignite.”
Paramedics took the man to a hospital for treatment, Manfredi said. The extent of the man’s injuries was not available.
Monrovia police turned the investigation over to a regional task force. It was not clear what charges the man may face.
SAN GABRIEL VALLEY >> A task force charged with monitoring convicts released from jail under AB 109 guidelines arrested 30 people during a compliance check throughout the western San Gabriel Valley early Wednesday, officials said.
The task force visited the listed homes of 88 people who are free on Post-Release Community Supervision, under the 2011 state prison alignment plan, Arcadia police Lt. Colleen Flores said in a written statement. The probationers were contacted at 61 of the homes, while the remaining 27 were either not home or not longer living at their listed addresses.
Compliance checks took place in Arcadia, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Monrovia, El Monte and Monterey Park, Sgt. Brett Bourgeous said.
“The zero-tolerance focus of the enforcement campaign was aimed at apprehending AB 109 absconders with outstanding warrants, and conducting compliance checks in accordance with a person’s probation conditions,” Flores said. “Many of the probationers contacted during the course of the operation were known to have previous court violations to include weapons charges, assault charges and property crimes.”
The 30 probationers arrested Wednesday were accused of crimes ranging from violating probation to drug charges, officials said. Officers jailed at least one of the probationers on suspicion of gun possession and seized a firearm.
The West San Gabriel Valley Anti-Crime Task Force is comprised of officers from the Arcadia, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Monrovia, El Monte and Monterey Park police departments, as well as the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Officials from the Long Beach, Burbank, Glendale and San Fernando police department also took part in Wednesday’s campaign, along with Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and officials from the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services.
MONROVIA >> A Valinda man accused of strangling his girlfriend in an SUV before sending pictures of her body and an apologetic message to his mother pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Pasadena Superior Court, officials said.
Prosecutors charged Joel Velasquez, 49, last month with the murder of his 46-year-old girlfriend, Alice Marie Medina-Kaplan, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said. Deputies found her body Sept. 21 inside an SUV parked in her father’s backyard in the 200 block of Mauna Loa Drive in Monrovia.
Medina-Kaplan and Velasquez had been staying in the SUV, officials said.
Prosecutors also accuse Velasquez of the special allegation that he has a previous felony conviction in 2011 for making criminal threat.
Velasquez entered a not guilty plea, Santiago said. He is scheduled to come back to court Nov. 17 for a preliminary hearing setting.
An autopsy determined Medina-Kaplan died of strangulation, and her death was ruled a homicide, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Assistant Chief of Operation Ed Winter said.
Via text message, “(Velasquez) sent pictures to his mother of his deceased girlfriend,” Winter said. The grisly photos were accompanied by a message saying he was sorry.
Handling detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau, who are assisting Monrovia police in the investigation, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Friends recalled Medina-Kaplan was a woman with a once-bright future who was formerly married to an attorney and living in upscale neighborhoods before mental illness changes thr course of her life. Medina-Kaplan met Velasquez at a homeless shelter in Altadena.
Medina-Kaplan’s father told KABC that his daughter suffered from schizophrenia.
Velasquez faces up to 30 years to life in state prison if convicted as charged.
PHOTO of Alica Marie Medina-Kaplan courtesy of the DMV.
MONROVIA >> Rescuers found a 15-year-old autistic boy more than six hours after he became separated from his group while hiking in the forest north of Monrovia Saturday, authorities said.
The Placentia teen was hiking with a church group comprised of special needs teens shortly before noon north of Monrovia Canyon Park when he became lost, Monrovia police Lt. Nells Ortlund said.
He went ahead of the group and became separated from his fellow hikers near the trail head of the Twin Springs Trail, north of the Trask Scout Camp, police said.
His group first searched for him themselves before they made their way out of the wilderness and were able to call for help about 3:20 p.m., the lieutenant said.
The boy had some food and water with him, but he is not familiar with the area and was not dressed for cold weather, officials said. The concern continued to grow as nightfall approached.
But officials found the boy shortly after 6:30 p.m. about two miles away from where he had been separated from the group, Lt. Nick Manfredi said. He was unharmed.
Monrovia police were joined in their search by the Monrovia Fire Department, the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, and helicopters from the Pasadena Police Department and Los Angeles County Fire Department, Ortlund said.
MONROVIA >> A woman was found strangled to death in Monrovia late Sunday, and a man was arrested in connection with her death, authorities said.
Few details were initially released regarding the death, which was reported just before 4 p.m. in a residential neighborhood in the 200 block of Mauna Loa Drive, deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s headquarters Bureau said in a written statement.
The woman was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
Monrovia police deferred comment to the sheriff’s department, which is spearheading the investigation.
No further details were available.