It was a bit like stealing cheese out of a mousetrap.
Three robbers hit a Washington Mutual branch housed in the same building as the local FBI office Monday, tearing away in a white Chevrolet Malibu with an FBI agent standing nearby.
The agent jumped into his car to follow the robbers, but immediately lost them as they sped off, heading south on Victoria Avenue, said David Nesbitt, FBI agent in charge of the Ventura office.
"If he had been in his car, we'd have had a much better chance of catching [the robbers] then," he said. "By the time they got on Victoria, they were out of sight."
Two of the robbers, wearing ski masks and carrying semiautomatic weapons, walked into the bank shortly before 9:30 a.m. and demanded money from each of three tellers, said a witness who declined to give her name.
"They didn't yell. They just kept saying, 'Quick, quick, put the money on the counter,' " she said. "They acted like the customers weren't even there. I don't think they realized the FBI was in the building."
About a dozen bank employees and 15 customers were present during the robbery. There were no injuries and no shots were fired.
The holdup took about a minute. During that time, the robbers were in contact with the getaway driver by walkie-talkie, Nesbitt said. Afterward, the two left through a side door and ran to the parking lot, where the car and driver were waiting.
Alarm buttons pressed in the bank summoned police and county sheriff's deputies.
The police arrived moments later. FBI agents were "right on their heels," said Police Sgt. George Morris.
The robbers' new getaway car had Auto Nation dealership plates, and Nesbitt said it probably had been stolen.
The amount of money taken was not disclosed, and the suspects remained at large.