SUN VALLEY — Two men who threatened to blow up nine stores packed with holiday shoppers--planting phony bombs to add menace to the plot--extorted more than $7,000 from merchants in Sun Valley and La Canada Flintridge, police said Tuesday.
Los Angeles Police Department Det. Tim Wain Scott said the robbers escaped with money from a Miller's Outpost in Sun Valley and an undisclosed amount from a La Canada Flintridge Kid's Mart on Monday night. The Miller's Outpost paid more than $7,000, said LAPD Lt. Dan Hoffman.
Wain Scott, who works in the arson explosives detail, said that in both cases one of the robbers dropped a box filled with wire-wrapped emergency road flares--which resemble dynamite sticks--either inside the store or near the front door. The extortionists then called the store from a nearby pay phone, told employees to look for the "bombs," and threatened to detonate them if cash from the register was not placed in a bag and left outside the door.
Employees complied with the request. The unidentified man drove up with his accomplice, grabbed the cash and sped off, Sheriff's Department spokesman Gabe Ramirez said.
Wain Scott said the cases are just two of nine extortion attempts the men apparently made over two days. They were unsuccessful in other attempts at a Clothestime store in La Crescenta, a Toys R Us in Burbank, three stores in Glendale and two locations in Los Angeles, because employees called police before handing over any cash, he said.
Bomb squad officials said that the fake bombs were not left at all stores, but that all the "explosives" found were phony.
Both Wain Scott and sheriff's officials said the men were apparently trying to capitalize on the steady flow of holiday shopping dollars into local stores. Detectives hesitated to liken the bomb scares to a string of mall bomb threats last December that closed down shopping centers from Long Beach to Glendale.
"If they keep this up, they are bound to get caught real soon," Wain Scott said. "This is really an amateur type of crime."
Detectives said a surveillance camera at one of the stores caught what is believed to be one of the extortionists on videotape. They hoped enhanced photos from that tape could help them find the men.
Glendale Police spokesman Chahe Keuroghelian said there were three bomb threats in Glendale on Monday, including calls to a Lucky supermarket, a store in the Glendale Galleria and a Bally's gym. In one case, Keuroghelian said, the caller made a particularly outlandish cash request.
"He called the Lucky's and demanded $5 million in the next two hours," Keuroghelian said. "We immediately sent in the bomb squad and checked the immediate area but didn't find anyone or a bomb."
Judy Decker, a spokeswoman for Lucky headquarters in Dublin, Calif., said the employee who answered the phone followed store policy by immediately calling police.
"They did a walk-around," Decker said. "No suspicious objects were found."
The store did not evacuate customers during the police search, Decker said.