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Ventura County

County Bank Robberies Up During 2001

Crime: The 'Both Hands Bandit,' blamed for eight heists, helped push the total to 29 last year.

January 01, 2002|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County's busiest bank robber of 2001 is called the "Both Hands Bandit" by the FBI because he gingerly displays his holdup notes to tellers with both hands, one at each corner.

Since August, he has been responsible for eight bank robberies in Ventura County, according to police.

And thanks to him, local bank robberies increased to 29, topping the previous year's total by seven, according to FBI Special Agent Brent Robbins.

"He's slick," said Robbins, "but we're working on him."

In security-camera images, the man appears to be as young as in his 40s or as old as in his 60s. He is described as white, with a pale complexion, 5-feet-10 to 6 feet tall, with graying blond hair and blue eyes. He wears prescription glasses.

In addition to the Ventura County robberies, the Both Hands Bandit is blamed for a Santa Barbara bank holdup last month.

Authorities say they're confident the Both Hands Bandit--a man brazen enough to rob the same bank and even the same teller twice--will soon be caught.

"I would say this will be the last Christmas he should enjoy in freedom-land," Robbins said.

On Aug. 26, the man robbed the Goleta National Bank on South Victoria Avenue in Ventura. Three days later, he returned, presenting a holdup note to the same teller.

"Hi, it's me again," he told her. "I'm back."

Police have solved nine of the county's bank robberies this year. Last year, they solved 14.

Despite the whimsical names applied by the FBI to bank robbers with distinctive traits, the incidents can terrify employees and customers.

Last month, three masked men dressed in black barged into a Bank of America branch in Thousand Oaks, screaming for everyone inside to get down. Two of the men leaped over the counter while the third kept watch over the customers. At least one of the men brandished a gun.

The robbers may have been members of a Los Angeles street gang, which is believed to have hit the same branch twice the previous year, according to police.

Banks in Thousand Oaks were robbed five times in 2001, down from nine times in 2000. Close to Los Angeles and just off the Ventura Freeway, the city has been a frequent target for bank robbers in the past. City officials have credited the recent decrease to a task force set up in March 2000, after banks in the Conejo Valley were hit seven times in less than a month.

This year, more bank robberies occurred in Ventura than any other area city. Five of Ventura's eight bank robberies are alleged by federal authorities to be the work of the Both Hands Bandit.

Elsewhere in the county, Camarillo and Oxnard each had four bank robberies. Port Hueneme had three. Simi Valley and Westlake had two each, and Ojai had one.

The total pales next to the

county's record high in 1992. That year, there were 97 bank robberies, or an average of about one every three days. In 1999--the safest year for the county's banks--the average was just one robbery a month.

Authorities have made seven arrests related to this year's heists.

One of the suspects arrested was Jeremy Lopez, 32. Authorities believe he was the "To Go Bandit," a robber who motioned tellers to deposit the money in a paper bag. Lopez, who allegedly held up a Bank of America branch in Simi Valley on Feb. 15, was arrested in Burbank after a robbery there, according to authorities.

Police also arrested Keith Armstrong, 40, and Star Premmer, 19, after the Feb. 20 holdup of a Washington Mutual branch in Oxnard.

Armstrong and Premmer, both of Los Angeles, were apprehended after a car chase that shut down the Ventura Freeway. Two other suspects in a separate car got away.

In the March 21 robbery of a Washington Mutual branch in Camarillo, authorities arrested Gordon Myers, 36, of Oxnard.

Two days later, a Bank of America in Ventura was robbed, and authorities determined that Alfonso Delgado, 25, of Ventura, was responsible. Delgado, a suspect in the killing of a grocery clerk during the robbery of a Ventura Avenue market, was killed a few weeks later during a standoff with police.

A Western Financial branch in Thousand Oaks was robbed April 19, and authorities charged William Phillips, 53, of Los Angeles. They believe Phillips is a robber known as "Mumbles" for the quiet way he spoke to bank tellers. Phillips was arrested in Los Angeles for his alleged involvement in a string of robberies there.

In June, police also arrested James Beltran, 33. They allege that he robbed Bank of America branches in Ventura and Port Hueneme and a Cal Fed branch in Port Hueneme--all within a few days.

Most recently, police arrested Camarillo brothers Peter and Anthony Hislar, 21 and 20, respectively, after the Sept. 25 robbery of a Bank of America branch.

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