Case of Faked Robbery : Prison Awaits Fugitive Captured After 6 Years

Times Staff Writer

A man who staged a bizarre fake robbery in Santa Ana, then fled the country and his eight-year prison sentence, has surfaced in Alabama and will be escorted home Friday by two investigators from the Orange County district attorney's office.

The investigators are flying to Alabama today to retrieve Vincent M. Carrano, 54, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Maurice L. Evans. Carrano was convicted of 30 counts of conspiracy, grand theft and insurance fraud in 1980 stemming from a fake robbery he and his business partner staged in 1977 at their precious metals storage firm in Santa Ana.

The details about Carrano's return to justice are still sketchy. Evans said his office was called earlier this week by Alabama law enforcement officials, who said "to come and get Carrano" from their state, where he apparently faced charges of mail and wire fraud and conspiracy.

Costa Rican Scheme

"There was information that he had been in Costa Rica," Evans said, "and in March of this year he was arrested by a U.S. marshal in Panama. He was returned to Birmingham, Ala. . . . Our office was advised that we could go to Alabama and pick Mr. Carrano up and return him to California to begin serving his eight-year prison term."

Published reports in Costa Rica linked Carrano with high-ranking Costa Rican government officials in a scheme involving the alleged sale of worthless European war bonds issued more than 40 years ago. Not much else is known about Carrano's six-year absence, Evans said.

Even before the 1980 conviction, Carrano's record was not spotless. He had pleaded guilty in 1970 to three counts of fraud and securities act violations and was put on probation for three years.

But what brought the former Seal Beach resident and co-owner of Swiss Vaults Inc. to his current predicament started on the Saturday morning of July 9, 1977.

Santa Ana police responding to an alarm at Swiss Vaults found the portly Carrano tied and taped to a chair. The firm's two vaults, which had contained private safe deposit boxes and about $1 million in precious metals, were stripped clean.

Once a gag was removed from his mouth, Carrano told officers the following:

He had been working in the office when he received a call from a "Mr. Pena" who wanted to rent a safe deposit box. When Mr. Pena appeared at the front door later that afternoon, Carrano let him in. Mr. Pena then produced a pistol, tied Carrano up and let in several accomplices. The gang proceeded to loot the vault.

Carrano, trussed to an office chair and ordered not to watch, said he expected to be killed at any moment. "I was so scared, I wet myself," he told police. He was forced to swallow a white pill that was "bitter as hell," he said. Before leaving, he recounted, one of the gang told the straw-hatted Pena: "Take care of that fat ---- before you leave."

Soon after, the robbers fled with a ton of loot in the trunk of Carrano's 1976 Lincoln Continental. Carrano told police that he waited until he was sure they were gone and then managed to free an arm and set off the shop's alarm.

Two days later, the FBI joined the investigation. By January, 1978, Carrano and his partner, Jack E. Fulton of Corona del Mar, were indicted by the Orange County Grand Jury.

According to the indictment, Carrano purchased the firm in April, 1976, and immediately began selling off silver, gold and coins from the vaults. The two men systematically embezzled the metals over a 15-month period and then engineered the fake robbery.

They were convicted on April 22, 1980, and sentenced a month later, on May 21. Carrano was given eight years in prison. While free on bail pending an appeal, Carrano fled. On Nov., 10, 1984, Fulton's prison term was reduced from six to five years.

Although Orange County officials never gave up hope of finding Carrano, Evans said there was some surprise registered at his sudden appearance.

"We keep looking," Evans said, "but you never know if they (escapees) are alive or dead."

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