Bank Hands Bogus Guard $400,000

Times Staff Writer

As scheduled, an armored-car guard appeared at a Security Pacific Bank branch in Orange and carried away about $400,000 in cash for safekeeping at the Federal Reserve Bank in Los Angeles.

But 90 minutes later, another guard appeared--the real guard. The first one had been an impostor--by then, a long-gone and wealthy impostor.

Although delayed 1 1/2 hours, discovery of the scam Tuesday was prompt compared to an earlier incident.

FBI officials said Wednesday that a phony armored-car guard of identical description walked off with cash from another Security Pacific branch in Arcadia on Oct. 14. That time, the bank didn't learn it had been victimized until December, when auditors discovered that the money had never reached the Federal Reserve Bank.

"The actual guards showed up later, and someone at the bank told them the money had already been picked up. They just let it go at that," FBI spokesman Fred Reagan said Wednesday.

The FBI issued a public appeal for help in finding the bandit, who is an exception to the profile of the typical Southern California bank robber--a drug addict trying to steal enough to feed his habit for a few days.

The phony armored-car guard is so familiar with bank procedures that he must be--or have been--an actual guard, said Bucky Cox, a bank robbery specialist in the FBI's Santa Ana office.

The impostor seems to know when cash pickups have been scheduled, "so when he walks in, he's expected," Cox said. He wears a handgun in a holster at his hip and either an actual armored-car guard uniform or a copy so similar that bank employees don't notice the difference.

On both occasions, he used the uniform of Sectran Armored Transportation of Pico Rivera, which was the firm used by both of the Security Pacific branches. "We're satisfied it's not one of our employees," Sectran General Manager Eric Kerns said Wednesday. "We do have an investigation going on here. We're cooperating with the police and the banking officials."

Cox said that on Tuesday, the impostor entered Security Pacific's Tustin Avenue branch about 9:30 a.m., was given the three bags of cash and walked out the front door with his handgun drawn and held at his side.

But there was no armored car waiting outside. Cox said a witness saw the phony guard get into a black, two-door Japanese sports car idling with a driver at the wheel. The car--perhaps a Mazda RX-7 or a Datsun sports car--sped off before the witness could see the driver, Cox said.

Witnesses at both holdups described the impostor as a clean-cut Latino man with a light complexion and dark brown hair, about 28 to 30 years old, standing about 5 feet, 11 inches tall and of heavy build.

"We're really hoping this (description) clicks with someone," Cox said. He asked anyone knowing of a man of that description with access to such a car and who is or was an armored-car guard to contact the FBI in Santa Ana at (714) 542-8825, in Los Angeles at (213) 477-6565 or through the bank-robbery tip line at (800) 442-2244.

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