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Burglars Dig Tunnel Into L.A. Bank, Take $91,000

Times Staff Writer

Burglars made off with $91,000 in cash from a Bank of America branch near Beverly Hills over the weekend after tunneling underground from a storm drain on La Cienega Boulevard into the bank’s vault, authorities said Sunday.

Bank of America spokesman Ronald Owens said the burglars traveled about 60 feet through a tunnel before breaking through the vault’s floor between 8 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday.

Once inside, the burglars ransacked several cash carts and quietly left through the tunnel after being scared off by a series of alarms.

Owens said the burglars made off with only some of the cash stored in the vault and did not tamper with the safe deposit boxes.

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‘Sophisticated Operation’

“It was not your run-of-the-mill bank robbery,” Owens said. “This was a very sophisticated operation.”

By the time bank security personnel opened the vault shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, they found only an 18-inch hole in the floor and a large supply of equipment, clothing and food.

“Apparently they were prepared to stay in the vault all weekend but had to leave in a hurry,” Owens said. “There was money scattered all over the place.”

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Joe Sanchez, a Sanitation Department foreman who helped investigators enter the storm drain, said members of his crew described the tunnel as a “very professional job” that was surprising for both its size and skill of construction.

The tunnel began with about an 18-inch hole chipped out of the concrete walls of the storm drain, which runs directly under La Cienega Boulevard, he said.

The drain, about 12 feet high, could have been entered from any number of manholes along its route, Sanchez said.

One sanitation worker said that behind the hole in the concrete, the tunnel was tall enough for a person to walk through and was shored up with wood planks.

The worker said the burglars had to drill through three to four feet of concrete to get through the floor of the vault.

“It wasn’t something anyone could do just overnight,” he said.

The bank first became aware of a possible break-in at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, when the first of two alarms went off.

Owens said that, following the bank’s normal procedure, security personnel did not check the branch, at 8501 Pico Blvd., until the alarm went off a second time at 8 a.m.

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Construction Noise

Inside the vault, police and security personnel found lighting equipment, a generator and an assortment of cutting tools.

Because of construction noise across the street and the heavy traffic on La Cienega and Pico boulevards, Owens said, it is unlikely that anyone heard the burglars tunneling beneath the bank.

Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Dan Slimak said he had no information on how long the burglars had been digging.

Owens said the vault was repaired over the weekend and the bank was scheduled to open as usual this morning.

The FBI and the Police Department’s burglary and auto theft division are investigating. No arrests have been made.

The methods used in the burglary appeared similar to another burglary in June, 1986, of a First Interstate Bank branch in Hollywood, where burglars tunneled through about three feet of concrete and reinforced steel to steal $190,000 in cash. That case has not been solved.


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