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Pair Plead Not Guilty in Robberies : Crime: Joseph Gillon is accused of holding up 31 fast-food restaurants. His girlfriend allegedly drove getaway car seven times.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Canoga Park man who told police he turned to stickups to pay his bills was arraigned Thursday on charges of robbing 31 fast-food restaurants since late May, most of them in the San Fernando Valley.

Joseph Gillon, 38, pleaded not guilty to the armed robbery charges in Van Nuys Municipal Court.

Gillon’s live-in girlfriend, Tinnia Younger, 39, who was charged with driving the getaway car in seven of the robberies, also pleaded not guilty.

Los Angeles police say that during a three-month armed robbery spree, Gillon entered fast-food restaurants at night, wearing sunglasses and usually a striped shirt.

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His approach was nearly identical each time.

During each robbery, Gillon allegedly threw a cloth bag on the restaurant’s counter, and at gunpoint demanded that a clerk fill the bag with money, said Detective Mike Watson of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division, which investigated the crimes.

After each robbery, police said, Gillon escaped in a 1985 Dodge Lancer, which had been parked around the corner from the restaurant and, in most cases, was driven by someone else. Gillon never fired the gun, and no one was hurt during the robberies, Watson said.

Among the restaurants Gillon allegedly robbed were a Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken & Biscuits in Canoga Park, as well as outlets of McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Arby’s, Jack-in-the-Box and Der Wienerschnitzel.

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Though Gillon’s alleged crimes were recorded on video surveillance cameras in several of the restaurants, Watson said that before this week he always managed to escape before police arrived.

“He had the whole thing worked out pretty well . . . in-and-out in three or four minutes tops,” said Watson.

But after it became apparent that the robberies were probably connected, police placed several restaurants in the West Valley under surveillance. Watson said Gillon also was being watched, but he would not say if police learned Gillon’s identity through the surveillance camera images.

Last month, Watson said, two police officers saw Gillon’s car parked around the corner from a fast-food place, and watched as the driver got out and covered the license plate with a rag--a tactic that was also employed in the other robberies, Watson said.

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The man, who police believe was Gillon, saw the officers watching him, and he and his accomplice got away, police said.

“After he realized he was under surveillance, he laid low for about two weeks, which was the longest period between robberies,” said Watson.

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Finally, on Tuesday night, Watson said officers following Gillon watched him and Younger case three fast-food places before the pair settled on a Del Taco restaurant in Northridge, at the corner of Lassen Street and Tampa Avenue.

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Watson said police again watched as Younger got out of the Dodge and placed a rag over the car’s license plate, but this time Gillon did not see the officers and they waited until he robbed the store before moving in to arrest the pair.

“When I asked him why (he allegedly robbed the stores), he said he needed to pay his bills,” Watson said.

However, Gillon may not have paid many bills with his take, which Watson estimated at less than $100 from each location. “They don’t keep that much money in registers,” Watson said.


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