Four "follow-home" robbery suspects, caught in the act when police watched them rob a Woodland Hills woman they trailed from a supermarket, are believed to be part of a ring of thieves who committed many sophisticated robberies, Los Angeles police said Wednesday.
Detectives said they believe a group of at least eight friends, and probably more, took part in a series of follow-home robberies that have alarmed many residents of the San Fernando Valley since mid-1991. Unlike most robbers who steal to support drug habits, these carefully plan robberies and use the money to pay lawyers, buy sports cars and vacation in Las Vegas, police said.
Detectives said they will seek charges today against the four suspects arrested Tuesday by members of the department's Special Investigations Section, an undercover unit that had one of the suspects under surveillance because he had been arrested previously for follow-home robberies.
The crime gets its name from the technique employed. The robbers pick a victim in a public place such as a supermarket or on the street--sometimes choosing those displaying signs of wealth such as costly jewelry or driving expensive cars--and follow them home by car, pouncing when the victim's car stops. There have been dozens of such robberies since they began in the Valley three years ago, and police have warned residents to be alert to cars following them home.
The three adults who were arrested--Bernard Roberts, 24, of Granada Hills, Richard Talley, 22, of Pasadena, and Derrick Mosley, 20, of Pacoima--were being held in lieu of $1-million bail each at the West Valley Division Jail. The fourth suspect, a 17-year-old Pacoima boy, was being held at Juvenile Hall in Sylmar pending a custody hearing.
Police said SIS officers arrested the four as they robbed Catherine Rothenberg in the garage of her Nomad Drive home Tuesday afternoon. Rothenberg was not injured and her purse and a diamond ring taken by the robbers were recovered.
Detective Gustavo Ruiz said investigators are probing links between the four suspects and as many as 24 other follow-home-type robberies in the Valley. He said detectives from as far away as Pasadena and Malibu are also investigating whether the foursome was responsible for robberies in those communities.
"We suspect these guys have been involved in numerous follow-home robberies," Ruiz said. "The problem is getting them identified. A lot of the victims were surprised in their cars and garages and they just didn't get a good look."
However, Roberts already faces six charges from prior arrests for follow-home robberies, and police, on the basis of victim descriptions, will ask that he be charged with two other robberies in addition to the Rothenberg case, Ruiz said.
Roberts, who was free on bail when he was arrested Tuesday, is believed to be the leader of the loosely formed ring, Ruiz said. The detective said the suspects apparently know each other from high school and other social associations.
The group, according to detectives, carefully planned robberies and patiently sought victims in stores, primarily supermarkets along Ventura Boulevard. On Tuesday, SIS officers watched them go into three different grocery stores before they apparently chose Rothenberg as a victim. At the time, she was wearing a large diamond ring worth an estimated $30,000, police said.
"I think they were well-planned robberies," Ruiz said. "They were patient and they knew exactly what they were doing and what to do with the jewelry."
Jewelry taken in the robberies was believed to have been fenced in Pacoima and downtown Los Angeles, Ruiz said, but police have been unable to identify anyone suspected of buying it. Ruiz said it is unlikely any jewelry taken from other robberies will be recovered.
"These guys were not doing this for drugs; they wanted the money," Ruiz said of the group's motives.
He said that although Roberts and Talley have no jobs, they recently bought used Mazda RX-7 sports cars. Roberts also returned from a vacation in Las Vegas last week and is suspected of using money from robberies to pay for attorneys defending him on the follow-home robbery charges filed against him earlier, Ruiz said.