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.
ALHAMBRA >> A former South Pasadena High School track coach will avoid time behind bars after pleading no contest to charges of molesting a 16-year-old student, officials said Friday.
Pierre Jonas Hernandez, 33, pleaded “no contest” to misdemeanor charges of child molestation and sexual battery during his trial last week, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said in a written statement.
Alhambra Superior Court Judge Jon Takasugi sentenced Hernandez Friday to 180 days in jail, to be served by electronic monitoring, five years of summary probation and 30 days of community service, Ardalani said.
Additionally, Hernandez was ordered to register as a sex offender for life, attend 52 seeks of sexual compulsion classes and not contact any of his alleged victim for 10 years.
“According to testimony at trial, a 16-year-old female student came forward in April 2014 and said Hernandez gave her a massage behind a locked door,” Ardalani said. “The massage included inappropriately touching the victim by reaching under her shorts and touching the victim’s buttocks.”
At least one more students made similar allegations once the investigation began, South Pasadena police Detective Mike Palmieri said, but additional charges were not filed as the statue of limitations had expired.
Hernandez had served as track coach at South Pasadena High School for about seven years, police added.
SOUTH PASADENA >> Police arrested a fake-bearded serial bank robbery suspect known as the “Bluto Bandit” Thursday following a failed heist in South Pasadena, which officials alleged was the seventh crime in his multi-county crime spree.
San Marino police chased down and arrested Joseph Adel Noriega, 37, of Rancho Cucamonga following the 12:30 p.m. failed bank robbery in South Pasadena, according to San Marino police Sgt. Timothy Tebbetts.
“The suspect was wanted by the FBI for at least six prior bank robberies and attempted robberies throughout Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties,” he said.
South Pasadena police first responded to Chase bank, 1305 Fair Oaks Ave., after the robber arrived and passed a teller a note demanding cash, South Pasadena police Cpl. Shannon Robledo said.
“For unknown reasons, the suspect fled the bank without receiving money, leaving behind the demand note. A bank employee saw the suspect get into a white four door sedan and flee Southbound on Fair Oaks Avenue,” Robledo said.
San Marino police spotted the suspect’s vehicle driving in the area of Huntington Drive and Bradbury Road, Tebbetts said. Noriega led police on a chase before eventually stopping at Mission Drive and Hackett Avenue in Rosemead, where he was taken into custody.
The Bluto Bandit earned his moniker, taken from the villain in the Popeye comic strip, due to the false beard he wore during his crimes, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
She described the Bluto Bandit as the “most prolific” serial bank robber currently operating in the Southland.
Previous robberies and incidents of suspect “casing” attributed to the bandit occurred in cities including Monrovia, Duarte, Unincorporated Pasadena, Ontario, Chino, Norco and Fontana
“(Noriega) was still wearing the fake black beard when he was arrested,” Robledo said.
Generally, the robber would target Chase banks branches and pass a note demanding cash to bank tellers, officials said.
The “Bluto Bandit” is pictured in this bank surveillance photo during a June 16, 2015, robbery at a Chase bank branch in Duarte. (Courtesy of the FBI.)
SOUTH PASADENA >> Three South Pasadena residents helped police capture a man police said stole a bicycle and tried to steal a delivery van early Saturday, police said.
Edwin Lopez, 32, of Los Angeles was arrested on suspicion of residential burglary, attempted auto theft, possession of burglary tools and possession of drug paraphernalia, South Pasadena police Cpl. Craig Phillips said. It was Lopez’s fourth arrest over the past month, according to county booking records.
The incident began about 8 a.m. when a resident of the 1000 block of Magnolia Street spotted a burglar leaving an underground parking structure of a condominium complex with a neighbor’s bicycle, the corporal said.
The witness told the bike owner of the theft and ran after the thief, Phillips said. The owner and the witnesses’ wife jumped into a car and followed.
Phillips said the three caught up with the fleeing bike burglar in the 100 block of Pasadena Avenue. After grappling with the suspect and briefly holding him for police, Lopez ultimately broke free of his captors and ran, leaving behind the bicycle and his backpack.
Lopez then jumped into an Amazon delivery van, which had the keys in the ignition, and started the car before realizing he was not alone, Phillips said. The 17-year-old daughter of the delivery driver, who was sitting in the passenger seat, screamed, and Lopez jumped out of the van and continued fleeing on foot.
Police arrived within a minute and captured Lopez without a struggle, Philliips said.
The backpack Lopez dropped contained burglary tools and a methamphetamine pipe, Phillips added.
No injuries were reported to either the suspect, victim or the good Samaritans.
Lopez has already been arrested twice this month by South Pasadena police on suspicion of theft- and drug-related crimes, Phillips said.
He was also arrested by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Transit Services Bureau deputies Aug. 16, records show.
Lopez was being held in lieu of $50,00 bail at the Pasadena Police Department jail pending his initial court appearance, records show.
SOUTH PASADENA >> A man fled without any money after trying to rob a South Pasadena bank branch Wednesday afternoon, police said.
The failed robbery took place about 4:30 p.m. at Chase, 1305 Fair Oaks Avenue, South Pasadena police Sgt. Jim Valencia said.
A would-be robber handed a teller a page-long demand note and briefly stood at the teller’s window, but left without receiving any cash, the sergeant said. He was last seen exiting a west-facing door.
Officers searched the area but did not find the suspect, Valencia said.
The FBI, which investigates bank robberies, was notified of the incident, he added.
PHOTO courtesy of the South Pasadena Police Department
SOUTH PASADENA >> Police are seeking who robbed a teen at gunpoint Thursday night.
The crime took place about 10:30 p.m. at the victim was walking in the 800 block of Mission Street, South Pasadena police Cpl. Tom Jacobs said.
The robber approached the teen from behind, brandished a handgun and forced the victim to lie on the ground, the corporal said.
“The juvenile then gave up property to the suspect,” Jacobs said. The robber fled west on foot. The victim suffered no significant injuries.
SOUTH PASADENA >> Two teenage boys were sentenced to probation Wednesday after admitting they planned a mass shooting at South Pasadena High School in August.
The teens, now 17 and 18, admitted to one felony count of making criminal threats for the plot against their school last year, which was discovered three days before the start of the school year.
The confessions came on what was scheduled to be the first day of trial.
South Pasadena police Detective Sgt. Robert Bartl, who has worked the investigation since the beginning, said he was pleased to see the case come to an end.
“I’m just very happy to see that there’s a resolution to this, and that there were some consequences to their actions,” he said. “I think it’s important for the students and administrators at the school to see the end of this… that they are safe.”
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SOUTH PASADENA >> A South Pasadena liquor store was robbed late Saturday for the second time in just over a week, officials said.
The heist occurred about 11:30 p.m. at Ocean Liquor, 2005 Huntington Drive, South Pasadena police Cpl. Shannon Robledo said.
Two men wearing sunglasses, gloves, hats and bandanas over their faces entered the store where two employees were working, Robledo said.
One of them pointed a handgun at the employee behind the counter and demanded cash, the corporal said.
The robbers fled after obtaining money from the register and searching behind the counter for more, Robledo said.
They were last seen heading east on Huntington Drive in a small, white or silver car.
The second employee managed to call 9-1-1 as the robbery was ongoing, however the suspects has already fled when officers arrived
Police had already added extra patrols in the area in response to another robbery at the same liquor store March 20, Robledo said.
In last week’s robbery, two men with a gun robbed the store of cash, lottery scratchers and a 12-pack of craft beer, according to Sgt. Tony Abdalla.
It appeared different robbers were responsible for the two crimes, Robledo said.
SOUTH PASADENA >> Two men armed with handguns made off with cash, lottery scratchers and a 12-pack of craft beer in a liquor store robbery late Friday, police said.
The crime unfolded about 10 p.m. at Ocean Liquor Store, 2005 Huntington Drive, South Pasadena police Sgt. Tony Abdalla said.
The robbers entered the store and threatened the lone clerk, a man in his 60s, at gunpoint, the sergeant said.
They took money from the cash register, as well as from the clerk, Abdalla said. The robbers also helped themselves to lottery scratcher tickets and a 12-pack of Stone IPA beer before fleeing.
Abdalla said the two robbers were last seen heading out of the store toward the parking lot. No getaway car was seen.
Police described the robbers as Latino men between 20 and 22 years old.
One stood about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed about 145 pounds, Abdalla said. He had short black hair, wore all dark clothing and carried a stainless steel revolver.
The second robber was about 5 feet 7 inches tall, 165 pounds, wearing a silver jacket and some type of garment covering his face. He also carried a handgun.
Police were working on obtaining surveillance video footage from the store to develop additional clues, Abdalla said.
Anyone with information can reach South Pasadena police at 626-403-7270.
SOUTH PASADENA >> Police are seeking a man who exposed himself to two South Pasadena Middle School girls in front of the campus Thursday.
The indecent exposure took place about 1:40 p.m. in front of the school, 1500 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena police officials said in a written statement.
“A male subject exposed himself in the presence of two female middle school students as he drove past the school,” the statement said.
“Both students believe the suspect was unaware of their presence as he drove passed the school westbound on Oak Street, then turning northbound on Fair Oaks Avenue,” the statement continued. “The subject did not approach the two students or attempt to contact them.”
Police described the suspect as a man of unknown race, between 30 and 55 years old, wearing a white baseball-style T-shirt with red sleeves. He was driving a grey Lexus sedan of unknown year and license plate number.
Anyone with information is asked to contact South Pasadena police detectives at 626-403-7280.