Two Lancaster men arrested on suspicion of sending death threat extortion letters to Antelope Valley residents were civilian volunteers with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Sherman Block said Wednesday.
Their work as volunteer electricians for the department did not give them access to any information they might have applied to the alleged extortion plot, Block said.
At his monthly press conference, Block also speculated that a rash of armored car robberies in the Southland--12 in the last year--may be the work of a single gang. Although descriptions of the bandits differ, the robberies share common planning and execution methods, Block said.
Block said that there are no suspects in the armored car stick-ups and that investigators are equally frustrated in determining a motive for the extortion letters.
The two suspects in the extortion case are electricians who did volunteer work at the department's training academy in Whittier, where they helped lay cable for the department's media resources office, which produces such things as training films for deputies, Block said.
Jailed in Las Vegas
The two men, Roman S. Makuch, 27, and Richard M. Faroni, 26, remained jailed in Las Vegas, where they were arrested over the weekend.
Makuch had applied to become a sheriff's deputy but withdrew his application while it was being processed, Block said. Background checks were done on both men before they were accepted as civilian volunteers, and neither had a criminal record, the sheriff said.
Investigators have not yet submitted their case to the district attorney's office, which has until Monday to file charges, said Lt. Tom Evans at the sheriff's station in the Antelope Valley.
The letters, mailed Nov. 1 from the Palmdale-Lancaster or Mojave areas, demanded that as much as $600,000 be sent to other people, many of whom were prominent citizens and were themselves recipients of similar letters.
'Mystique' of Letters
"It had almost a chain letter mystique to it," Block said, adding that there was "no connection between" the more than 250 people who received the letters.
Both Block and Evans speculated that the two might have hoped that even one or two of the letter recipients might pay the money, making their computer-generated extortion campaign worthwhile.
"Even if they just got 1% of the money they wanted, that would have been a lot," Evans said.
Investigators were led to Makuch and Faroni because of an anonymous tip, one of many generated in the case, Evans said.
"We even followed up on some tips that led us to a burglar we weren't even looking for," he said.