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Officer Charged in Bank Heist That Netted $722,000

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A veteran Los Angeles police officer was charged Wednesday with robbing a USC-area bank of $722,000 at gunpoint in an inside job that authorities said was aided by a branch supervisor with access to the vault.

David A. Mack, 36, a former world-class track star and nine-year LAPD officer, was arrested Tuesday evening near his home in Southwest Los Angeles after he was fingered by one of his alleged accomplices. Nearly all the money is still missing, authorities said.

Also charged in the Nov. 6 robbery was Mack’s alleged cohort inside the Bank of America branch, Errolyn Romero, 26. Authorities say Romero told them of Mack’s alleged involvement Tuesday after they told her she had failed a lie detector test.

On the day of the robbery, authorities charge, Romero made sure that the Bank of America branch had “far more” cash on hand than was normally authorized, and she ushered Mack into the vault area under the guise of being robbed.

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The $722,000 represents one of the biggest cash heists from a Southern California bank in at least a decade, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Stephen Wolfe.

Mack’s arrest stunned and angered LAPD officers and others in law enforcement.

“Whenever any officer is accused of a crime, particularly a heinous crime like this one, it strikes you right in the heart,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Martin Pomeroy. “It erodes and diminishes the efforts of so many good people.”

Mack remained in custody without bail Wednesday after a brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, and he declined any comment as he was led away by marshals.

With so much money still missing, Federal Magistrate Judge Robert N. Block said he would not order Romero’s release before relatives offer deeds to their homes as collateral to ensure her return to court. Romero’s lawyer and family said outside court that she has been wrongly accused.

“She’s not a participant in this--I think she’s a victim,” defense attorney Richard Millard said after the hearing. “She didn’t profit at all from this--except to have a gun pointed at her.”

Two other men suspected of having taken part in the robbery remain at large. One of the men held a security guard at gunpoint in the lobby while Mack allegedly carried out the robbery, while the other man drove a white getaway van, authorities said.

Prosecutor Wolfe refused comment on the possible identity of the accomplices.

A detailed affidavit filed by FBI Agent Brenda Cotton suggests that interviews with Bank of America employees first pointed toward Romero’s possible involvement.

Because of an armored truck delivery that morning, the bank had “far more currency on hand than was authorized by the Bank of America,” an employee told the FBI. It was Romero, the employee said, who was personally responsible for ordering the cash.

Romero was also responsible for putting the money away once it was delivered, but had not done so by the time the robbers arrived, authorities said. Instead, the money remained neatly packed in the vault area in bags, enclosed in shrink wrap packaging.

Another employee told the FBI she had confronted Romero about why she had not put the money away. “Romero had told her that she did not feel well, and that [the other employee] should not give her a hard time about it,” the FBI said.

As the robbery unfolded, the robber displayed what appeared to be an assault pistol and ordered Romero to give him access to the bank vault, authorities alleged. “Even though Romero was behind the bulletproof barrier, she admitted the robber to the teller area by pressing a button to open the door . . . and took him to the bank vault,” the federal affidavit says.

Mack then allegedly told Romero and two other employees that he wanted the armed shipment that had just been delivered, and he threatened to shoot them if they did not comply. The robber then took three bags of money and fled with the other two men, authorities said.

Romero agreed to take a polygraph test Tuesday, and investigators told her she had failed it. During subsequent interrogation, “she made admissions” indicating that she was involved in the robbery, according to the FBI.

Romero was then asked to identify the robber who entered the vault. She reached into her purse and handed investigators a business card. It was Mack’s LAPD card, according to the FBI affidavit.

“Why did I get myself involved with this?” the FBI quoted Romero as saying.

Mack was arrested by LAPD special investigations officers Tuesday about 7:40 p.m. at the southeast corner of Rodeo Road and Crenshaw Boulevard in Southwest Los Angeles, near his home. He declined to speak with investigators without an attorney present, but he did agree to a search of his home, authorities said. There, FBI agents found several weapons including two assault pistols, along with $5,600 in cash, all in $50 bills; a bank statement for a $7,000 deposit on the day of the robbery; and receipts for purchases totaling more than $20,000 since the robbery.

Linda Mueller, a spokeswoman with Bank of America, described the West Jefferson Boulevard bank as “a very quiet branch. . . . This was the first incident there in more than three years.”

Romero was hired in August 1992 and was working as a section manager overseeing the bank’s tellers at the time of the holdup, Mueller said. She has been suspended pending further investigation, Mueller said.

Meanwhile, the LAPD listed Mack as “absent without leave” from his duties within the department’s West Bureau, pending an investigation.

Police declined to discuss Mack’s background but David Greifinger, an attorney with the Santa Monica Track Club, said the officer had been a world-class 800-meter track star in the 1980s, boasting the world’s third-fastest time in that event at one point. Mack ran for the University of Oregon where he won the NCAA championship in the 800-meters in 1982.

“Here at the LAPD we have a proud tradition of being corruption free. We seek it out and deal with it right away,” Deputy Chief Pomeroy said. “There’s a moment of being demoralized. This man, if he’s guilty of this crime, does not represent the majority of officers who work in law enforcement throughout the nation.”


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