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THE NORTH HOLLYWOOD SHOOTOUT

Gunmen's Ties to More Robberies Investigated

Crime: Men in bank shootout may have been behind two armored car heists, including one in which a guard was killed.

March 04, 1997|BETH SHUSTER and ALAN ABRAHAMSON and MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Federal agents Monday sought to link the gunmen who died in the North Hollywood bank robbery to a murder and two armored car heists, as court records revealed that the robbers had been allowed to recover large amounts of weapons paraphernalia confiscated after a 1993 arrest.

A number of similarities between Friday's bloody robbery attempt and the two armored car assaults in the San Fernando Valley, including the use of automatic weapons, make investigators suspect that Larry Eugene Phillips Jr., 26, and Emil Dechebal Matasareanu, 30, may have been responsible for the additional crimes, sources said.

"If I were in Vegas, I'd bet on it," said one source closed to the investigation.

Investigators already suspect that the pair carried out two other takeover style bank robberies last May, which netted them $1.3 million to $1.7 million. Investigators are also trying to determine whether the two gunmen belonged to a larger criminal organization.

Meanwhile, there were new developments Monday related to last weeks's brazen bank robbery and gun battle:

* Court documents show that Phillips and Matasareanu were allowed to reclaim much of what had been described as a "bank robbery kit" after Glendale Police caught them with with carload of weapons and commando-assault gear. They were allowed to recover bulletproof vests, hollow-point bullets, two .45-caliber handguns, a MAC-90 rifle, police scanners, gas mask, wigs, fake mustaches, gloves and sunglasses--even though they had just been convicted on weapons charges. Some of that gear, authorities speculate, may have been used during a later series of bank robberies.

* Although both robbers originally were thought to have been killed by police gunfire outside the bank, authorities said they now are investigating the possibility that Phillips shot and killed himself with a handgun after his automatic weapon jammed.

* State Sens. Richard Polanco and Tom Hayden, both Los Angeles Democrats, called for legislation that would "close loopholes" in the federal assault-weapons ban and allow individual cities to pass stricter gun control laws governing sales and possession.

* A top LAPD official said the department would ask the Police Commission during a closed session today to place semiautomatic rifles in every supervisor's car and to launch a pilot program giving patrol officers .45-caliber handguns instead of the current-issue 9-millimeter weapons.

The robbers injured 11 officers and six civilians, but killed no one during the gun battle Friday.

But now, FBI agents are attempting to link the pair to the murder of Herman Cook, a Brink's truck guard who was shot and killed in an ambush attack at a Bank of America branch in Winnetka on June 14, 1995.

Authorities also are attempting to link the pair to the attempted robbery of another Brink's guard in March 1996. In that attempt, gunmen shot at the truck while it was between bank stops, using a high-powered weapon that shattered the windshield. No one was injured.

"These are the two incidents are are looking into," said William Rehder, who leads bank robbery investigations for the FBI's Los Angeles-area office. "Because of the type of people we're dealing with and their physical descriptions and their weapons, it's certainly prudent to investigate those cases."

*

Meanwhile, new details emerged about Phillips and Matasareanu and the world they lived in. According to court records and interviews, the two had been friends since 1989. They shared an interest in high-powered weapons and apparently liked to go shooting together.

They claimed to have been headed to a shooting range when they were caught by Glendale police in 1993 with an arsenal of weapons and military gear in their car. The collection of paraphernalia was likened to a "bank robbery kit" by some authorities.

Police arrested them on suspicion of conspiracy to commit robbery, but prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to convict them of that charge and settled for less serious convictions on weapons violations. They both served less than four months in jail.

After their convictions, the pair received court approval to recover nearly all of their gear.

In an interview Monday afternoon in his chambers, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Stoever said the request to release the ammunition, clips, vests and other items came from defense attorneys.

But, the judge said, he signed release orders--on Jan. 28, 1994--only "after I had the concurrence and agreement" of the district attorney's office as well as "assurance" from prosecutors that Glendale police had "no objection."

The judge released to Phillips' mother a rifle described in court papers as a MAC-90 as well as a .45-caliber handgun, but with this note: "Firearms to be sold only through licensed dealer pursuant to California law."

Stoever said Monday his recollection was that the guns were being released on the condition that they would be sold.

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