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Suspected rooftop bank heist crew arrested after stealing 'millions'

April 10, 2013|By Richard Winton
  • Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, left, looks at booking photos of suspects in a series of bank heists in the San Gabriel Valley. Five men were arrested last Friday in connection with the burglaries.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, left, looks at booking photos of suspects… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

The bank heist crew didn’t carry demand notes or ever see a bank teller.

Their tools of choice were a powered cutting saw, hand-held radios and ladders.

They walked away with millions of dollars in recent years by simply cutting through the rooftops of San Gabriel Valley banks under cover of darkness.

They made holes in the roofs to access the money and slipped away with bags of cash unnoticed before dawn.

They have been responsible for three rooftop heists since August 2011, L.A. County Sheriff's Department officials said.

For more than a year, sheriff's detectives searched for clues to identify the bandits and gathered DNA at the crime scenes. The evidence led detectives to arrest five Inland Empire men as suspects in the unique heists, Sheriff Lee Baca said.

“It is one  of the most elaborate crimes we have seen,” Baca said Wednesday. “This is something out of a movie script.”

Last Friday morning in the dark, men dressed in identical uniforms and shoes and carrying walkie-talkies drove a van without a license plate to the CitiBank in Diamond Bar and cut their way inside.

They slipped into the bank and out again. But before they could make their getaway, detectives and tactical officers pounced and arrested the men.

Undercover detectives had watched them surveilling the bank in the run-up to the rooftop burglary, investigators said.

“These are not your typical burglars,” Lt. Kent Wegener said. “They showed some sophistication in their planning and the execution of the actual crime. Our team of detectives worked long and hard to put a stop to their crime series.”

Laurentiu Penescu, 38, of Yucaipa; Lucian Isaia, 32, of Beaumont; Alceu Andreis, 44, of Banning; Dean Andrew Muniz, 45, of Fontana; and Daniel Soto, 36, of Riverside, were booked at the Walnut Sheriff’s Station.

Each was held in lieu of $500,000 with the exception of Penescu, whose bail was set at $3 million.

Shortly after the arrests, detectives with search warrants searched seven homes tied to the suspected crew, where they seized a dozen high-end cars, a 24-foot power boat, seven Ducati motorcycles, several firearms, bags of money and piles of jewelry, investigators said.

Authorities suspect the items were probably acquired with the stolen money. They also recovered $30,000 in cash, but they say a large amount of cash has yet to be recovered.

Each of the men appeared in a Pomona courtroom Friday and were charged with a variety of burglary, conspiracy, grand theft and vandalism counts.

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Twitter: @lacrimes| Google+

richard.winton@latimes.com

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