Central Bank Will Leave La Crescenta Because of Holdups

Times Staff Writer

The Central Bank of Glendale will close its La Crescenta branch because two recent armed robberies have left bank officials concerned about the safety of employees and customers and worried that the small office has become an easy target for criminals.

The branch office at 2777 Foothill Blvd. was robbed by a gunman last November and in March by two armed men who made off with "a significant amount of money" in a well-planned robbery, Sheriff's Department investigators said.

State Approved Closure

"We just don't want to take any more risks," bank Vice President Marlene Hamilton said, adding that the branch is only marginally profitable. "It looks like the bank is becoming vulnerable, and keeping it open is just not worth the life of one of our people or customers."

Sgt. Kurt Sloman of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's station said the two holdups were the only bank robberies in the area in more than a year.

After the March 14 robbery, bank officials hired an armed guard for the branch and began taking steps to close the office. Last month, the Caliifornia Banking Department approved the closure, Hamilton said.

Bank officials are now notifying the branch's 200 customers of the closure, which is expected by September, and are encouraging them to transfer their accounts to the main office in downtown Glendale, Hamilton said.

The Central Bank of Glendale operates four branches in the city and one in Palm Springs. The La Crescenta branch office, staffed by only three employees, opened in 1982 and had not been robbed until last November.

"We were concerned when it was robbed in November, but it was really the March robbery that got us seriously thinking about closing the branch," Hamilton said.

In the March robbery, two well-dressed men carrying hand guns and wearing wigs and artificial mustaches entered the bank shortly after noon and ordered the two employees on duty not to move "or they would blow their heads off," Hamilton said.

Cleaned Out Vault

The robbers then cleaned out the vault and forced the employees into a back room before making their getaway. No customers were in the bank at the time and neither employee was injured.

"The robbery was unusual in that it was a total takeover of the bank," Sgt. Gunars Heine of the Sheriff's Department said. "When a bank gets taken over as easily as that one did, there's definitely reason to worry. It's generally the case that the smaller the bank, the easier it is to rob, and that branch is essentially just one small room."

Sheriff's Department investigators said the two men who held up the bank in March are suspects in at least two other robberies, one in Duarte and another in Encino. In all three cases, the pair staked out small banks and entered them shortly after money deliveries were made.

No arrests have been made in the March robbery. But in the November holdup, in which a gunman made off with several thousand dollars in cash and traveler's checks, Sheriff's deputies have arrested Benjamin Velasquez, a 24-year-old Ventura County resident who has been charged in that robbery as well as another in Duarte, Heine said.

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