FBI Names Suspect in $1-Million Holdup Spree

Times Staff Writer

Federal authorities have identified a suspect in last summer's kidnaping and bank robbery in Buena Park where two gunmen in wigs strapped what they said were explosives around a teller's waist before escaping with $80,000.

Ralph Stephen Gambin, 42, is suspected of four other similar bank robberies netting a total of almost $1 million in the Southland and Florida since April, 1988, said Jim Neilson, an FBI spokesman in Los Angeles.

Gambin, who served 15 years in federal prison for a 1973 Iowa bank robbery and a failed escape attempt 3 years later in which he shot two U.S. marshals, is believed to be in Southern California with a female accomplice, Neilson said. The pair is considered "armed and extremely dangerous," Neilson said.

Gambin was paroled from federal prison in March, 1988, and on Aug. 1 a federal warrant was issued for his arrest on parole violation charges, Neilson said.

Disguised Bandits

Gambin's suspected crime spree began only a month after his release from prison, FBI officials said. So far, no one has been injured, federal authorities say.

On April 25, three men in disguises held a Wells Fargo Bank manager and her son in their Torrance home overnight and then forced the woman to open the bank's vault before the branch opened the next morning.

On Aug. 28, in a similar scenario, two men wearing black wigs and beards forced their way into the La Habra apartment of a Buena Park bank teller, holding the woman and three family members at gunpoint until morning.

They then forced the teller into a Security Pacific Bank branch after saddling her with a device that they claimed was a remote-controlled bomb. It was fake and no one was injured, but the pair fled with $80,000.

Two Florida bank robberies followed in November and December, involving disguised bandits who kidnaped people using handcuffs and fake bombs, Neilson said. One robbery attempt failed, Neilson said, and the gunmen got away with no money.

Handcuffed to Briefcase

The most recent robbery, also a botched attempt, occurred last week in Torrance, Neilson said. A gunman accosted a female employee outside a Security National Bank branch on May 5 and handcuffed a briefcase to her wrist, claiming that a bomb was inside.

Police arrived while the bandit waited outside, and he escaped, Neilson said.

Gambin has a female companion who is also wanted by the FBI and the U.S. Marshal's Service on suspicion of harboring a fugitive and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, Neilson said.

Julieta Flores Marquez, 46, is a disbarred San Antonio attorney, Neilson said. He could not say how long the pair had been traveling together or whether Marquez was suspected of participating in any bank robberies.

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