Three charged in rooftop bank burglaries face new indictment

Three charged in rooftop bank burglaries face new indictment
Former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, left, announces in April 2013 the capture of the alleged members of a bank burglary ring that cut through the roofs of bank branches to access their vaults. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Three members of an Inland Empire burglary crew accused of stealing more than $18.5 million by using power tools to cut through bank roofs face a new indictment implicating them in heists back to 2011.

Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment handed down Tuesday in Los Angeles that could see the trio spend more than a decade behind bars. Prosecutors now allege the crew got away with $18.5 million, up from about $16 million. Virtually none of the money has been recovered.


The men — Alceu Johnny Andreis, 46, of Banning, Laurentiu Penescu, 39, of Beaumont and Lucian Gabriel Isaia, 33, of Yucaipa — were previously convicted of the attempted burglary of a Diamond Bar Citibank in April 2013, along with two other men.

Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives captured the men after they were observed cutting through the bank roof at night. Detectives had followed them for months after DNA left behind by an accomplice at a prior burglary pointed to the professional crew.

The new indictment covers bank heists that sheriff's detectives and federal prosecutors have long suspected were the work of the skilled burglars. For more than two decades the crew has broken into businesses, including jewelry stores, by cutting holes in their roofs under the cover of darkness, authorities say.

At an East West Bank branch in Rowland Heights in August 2011, $147,000 in cash was stolen and safety deposit boxes containing $14 million in valuables were emptied.

The Preferred Bank in Diamond Bar was hit a few months later, but the job was abandoned.

In September 2012, prosecutors allege the thieves broke into the vault of a BBCN Bank branch in Diamond Bar, taking $430,000 in bank cash and another $4 million in valuables from customers' safe deposit boxes.

Previously, authorities claimed $2 million was taken from those boxes, but that number rose with insurance claims.

The indictment for conspiracy, bank burglary, possession of a firearm and aiding and abetting shows prosecutors knew the details of the crew's surveillance of the banks.

Daniel Soto, of Riverside another member of the crew, has pleaded guilty to attempted bank burglary and has cooperated with federal prosecutors.

A fifth man, Dean Muniz, 47, of Fontana has already been sentenced to 10 years for his role in the September 2012 burglary and April 2013 attempted burglary.

Andreis, Isaia and Penescu each pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy to commit bank burglary and attempted bank burglary in connection with a 2013 break-in at a Diamond Bar Citibank branch.

Andreis received a 51-month term, while Isaia and Penescu each received 37 months.

If convicted of the new charges, Andreis and Penescu face a total of 25 years and Isaia faces 35 years.

A clue the burglars left behind -- the plastic back of a walkie-talkie -- was a significant break in the case. Sheriff's forensic specialists lifted some DNA from the surface and tied it to Muniz. The men were arrested after detectives trailed them for several months.


The detectives began staking out the Diamond Bar Citibank, and the men eventually moved to break into it. In April 2013, as the five men drove away on the 60 Freeway, sheriff's deputies swooped in and arrested them.

Andreis, Isaia and Penescu were convicted nearly a decade ago of several Riverside County rooftop thefts. In those heists, more than $3.5 million in cash and gems were stolen from jewelers and other businesses in Palm Springs and Temecula.

Follow Southern California crime @lacrimes.