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One suspect arrested in casino heist

Alleged getaway driver is held in $1.5-million robbery, with $500,000 found in his home.

August 04, 2007|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

Authorities on Friday arrested the suspected getaway driver in the heist of $1.5 million in cash from a Riverside County casino that allegedly was pulled off by one of the casino's security workers.

Eric Alan Aguilera, 23, of Hemet was booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside on suspicion of kidnapping and robbery in concert. Bail was set at $250,000, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

Authorities were still searching for Rolando Luda Ramos, 25, a low-level security technician at the Soboba Casino in the San Jacinto area, who they believe hogtied four employees and made off with the money.

"They are still working some leads," said Riverside County Assistant Sheriff Pat McManus. "I don't think the trail is completely cold yet. We don't think he's made a run for the border or anything like that yet."

He said Aguilera was one of several people interviewed by authorities late Thursday night. Aguilera voluntarily went to the Hemet Police Station, and "during the course of the interview he made some statements that led us to believe he was involved," McManus said.

Aguilera was booked at 4:41 a.m. Friday. Authorities then conducted a search warrant at his Hemet residence and found $500,000 of the stolen money, McManus said.

Authorities said several of the people who were bound and gagged by the robber identified him as Ramos, who they said was wearing his casino uniform and ID badge.

The robber had a security guard escort him into the vault area about 5 a.m. Thursday after telling him he was going to work on surveillance equipment, sheriff's officials said. He apparently hid a handgun, pepper spray and duct tape in a tool belt before entering the secure room.

Brandishing a gun, he bound and gagged at least four employees, pepper-spraying one, authorities said. Three employees were found in one vault and one was found in another.

On Thursday, sheriff's officials said it was unclear whether the robber had an accomplice.

But on Friday, authorities alleged that Aguilera drove Ramos to the casino. They said he then waited for Ramos to text-message him on his cellphone and tell him that the robbery was finished before returning to pick him up.

Ramos, who declared bankruptcy a year ago, had worked for three years as a surveillance technician for the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians, earning $2,080 a month. He reported $27,000 in annual income for 2005.

The casino was opened in 1995 by the Soboba Band, which has about 900 members. Many live in San Jacinto, Hemet and the neighboring communities. The band is one of 58 federally recognized tribes in California that operate casinos.

The casino, in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains, is a 74,000-square-foot facility with a unique tent-like structure surrounded by palms.

Anyone with information on Ramos' whereabouts is asked to call the Sheriff's Department's Hemet Station at (951) 791-3400.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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