The head of the FBI's Ventura County office says a member of an Oxnard heroin and cocaine ring was partly to blame for the record number of bank robberies in the area in 1989.
FBI Agent Gary Auer said at least four drug addicts responsible for more than 20 of the 76 bank robberies in the county last year were told by an Oxnard drug dealer to rob banks as a way to support their habits.
"The four said they were all getting their instructions from the same dealer in the El Rio section of Oxnard, but they wouldn't reveal his identity," Auer said.
While Auer said it has not yet been conclusively determined, he expressed hope that the unidentified dealer may have been apprehended last week during the breakup of an Oxnard drug ring that allegedly made up to 480 drug deliveries daily.
He expressed cautious optimism that the arrest of nine suspected members of the Oxnard ring, combined with the arrest of the four serial bank robbers in the closing months of the year, could result in a reduction of the bank robbery rate in 1990.
"It is hoped the nine arrests by the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and the Oxnard Police Department will have a direct impact in the bank robbery situation," Auer said.
Auer, the former head of the FBI's Soviet counterintelligence squad in Los Angeles, took over the Ventura County office in late 1986, when bank robbers were busily setting a previous record of 71 robberies in the county.
After instituting a new policy of aggressively seeking media help in publishing the photos of suspected bank robbers, Auer saw bank robberies decline to 60 in 1987 and 31 in 1988.
During the first half of 1989, there were 20 bank robberies in the county. Auer credited help from newspapers and the public with keeping the figure down.
Beginning in July, however, the bank robbery total virtually exploded. While admitting frustration over the increase, Auer said the total would have been even higher without his media policy.
"Time after time, the publication of a bank robbery suspect has led to an almost immediate arrest," Auer said. "There is no question that this has helped us substantially in the last year.
"The problem is that we had some serial bank robberies where quality photos were not obtained during the initial robberies," Auer added. "The idea is always to get these guys as early as possible because they will keep robbing banks until they are caught."
During 1989, according to FBI statistics, robbers took a total of $132,122 from banks in the county. Almost all of the suspects who were arrested were admitted cocaine and heroin addicts, and most were from the Oxnard area.
A profile of the robbers obtained from the FBI shows that in most cases they did not travel far to commit their crimes--with almost two-thirds of the robberies staged in Oxnard and Ventura.
"Bank robberies are clearly related to the narcotics problem," Auer said. "The arrest rate is high and prison sentences are tough, but as somebody's narcotics problem goes up they get desperate for money and willing to buck the odds.
"The fact is that the solution rate in this county has traditionally been above 85%," Auer said. "Sooner or later, these guys either get caught because of their picture in the paper or they do something stupid that gets them arrested."