Stupidity No Crime, Lawyer Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a desperate attempt to escape overwhelming debt, a former Oxnard police officer put all of his experience in law enforcement to use when he tried to rob a local bank last year, a Ventura County prosecutor said Monday.

Elaborately disguised as a Texas millionaire businessman, complete with an oversized cowboy hat, and arriving in a limousine, Edward Ludaescher strapped on a handgun and a police scanner as he prepared to rob American Commercial Bank last year, Deputy Dist. Atty. Patty Murphy said. The Oxnard branch had been used in training exercises when he was a member of the city's police SWAT team, Murphy said.

"He owes money in a big way, and he was going to steal money in a big way," Murphy told jurors during closing arguments in Ludaescher's robbery trial.

An 18-year member of the Police Department before he retired for medical reasons more than two years ago, Ludaescher is accused of trying to rob the bank so he could repay tens of thousands of dollars he owes because of a failed business venture.

But Ludaescher's attorney said his client was simply trying to gain "an insider's knowledge" of robbing a bank in preparation for a law enforcement training video he planned to produce. The plan may have been dumb, attorney Douglas Daily said, but it does not make Ludaescher a criminal.

"He may be guilty of flagrant stupidity," Daily said. "This was a stupid way to go about making a video. Yet that was his idea. That was his intent."

Ludaescher, 41, arrived the morning of Nov. 13 at the bank on South A Street in a limousine, wearing a white cowboy hat and large sunglasses. He pretended to be a high-dollar businessman who was expanding his offices to Oxnard and needed a bank to handle payroll and other financial services, prosecutors said.

But bank employees testified during the weeklong trial that they were immediately suspicious of him. He refused to take off his sunglasses, they said, claiming he had a migraine headache and the bank's florescent lights bothered him.

And one manager said she noticed the man had some sort of bandage around his neck, which was later discovered to be Band-Aids concealing the earpiece and wire from a police scanner attached to his belt.

He also arrived at the bank carrying a duffel bag and a box, which were found by an employee in the bank bathroom. Fearful the items may contain a bomb, bank employees called police.

That call, Murphy said, was heard by Ludaescher on his scanner. He tried to leave, but was stopped by police, she said.

Murphy outlined for jurors Ludaescher's financial problems, which included a $100,000 bank loan to finance his invention, the Options Gun. The gun, used by the Oxnard Police Department, includes a pepper spray container, giving police the option of firing the weapon or dousing the suspect with immobilizing spray.

But authorities said Ludaescher's company never had any major sales and another Ludaescher business, known as Special Options, had about $9,000 left in the bank. Ludaescher has since filed for bankruptcy.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberations today in Ventura County Superior Court.

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