A man posing as an FBI agent -- sporting the requisite dark blue suit, belt-clipped badge and “FBI” business cards -- has robbed two banks in California and Arizona of more than $100,000 in cash and recently attempted to hold up a third on busy State Street in Santa Barbara.
The unknown robber, possibly a former banking industry employee, has been dubbed the “Impersonator Bandit” by federal authorities, who announced a $70,000 reward this week for information leading to his capture.
“This guy seems to have a great thrill in duping law enforcement and duping the banking system into thinking he is in law enforcement,” said FBI Special Agent Leane Blevins.
Considered armed and dangerous, the robber has a method of operation -- described as highly sophisticated -- that involves first gaining the trust of bank officials by claiming to be an FBI agent, authorities said. During the heist, the robber handcuffs the bank manager to a small metal box, orders him or her to open a vault, and declares that he can detonate “the device,” actually a phony bomb, from up to 20 miles away.
“We’ve had bank robbers pose as agents before, but this guy’s got a pretty complicated scheme,” said Dan Bodony, a Los Angeles special agent in charge of bank robbery investigations in Southern California.
The heists started in Anaheim when the robber went to four different Wells Fargo branches on April 30 and introduced himself to branch managers, claiming he wanted to share information about bank robberies in the area and discuss security procedures.
The robber -- who carries a black briefcase -- handed out fake business cards at the Anaheim banks with the name of a real FBI agent who works in a counterterrorism unit in Los Angeles, Blevins said. He also showed branch managers photocopies of FBI wanted posters of bank robbers -- probably downloaded from the agency’s Web site, she said.
A day later, on May 1, the robber returned to an Anaheim Wells Fargo branch on South Harbor Boulevard about noon. A familiar face, he was escorted to the branch manager’s office, where he cuffed the woman to the metal box before cleaning out a safe and fleeing on foot.
A month later at a Wells Fargo branch on North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale, Ariz., the robber did the same thing. He went into the branch on May 29, flashed his badge, handed out his business card -- this time with the name of the head of the FBI’s St. Louis office -- and got to know the branch manager, Blevins said.
On May 30, he handcuffed the manager to the phony bomb and then stole money from a vault.
On July 11, the robber tried a new bank, federal authorities said. He went into a branch of the First Bank & Trust on State Street in Santa Barbara. Frustrated by a bank manager who wouldn’t immediately meet with him, the robber left.
Suspicious, the bank manger called FBI agents, who set up surveillance, Blevins said. But the man never returned.
The robber is described as white, 6 feet 2 to 6 feet 4, about 250 pounds and possibly wearing a dark, grayish wig. He is in his late 30s to early 50s and always wears a dark suit and tie and carries a briefcase. Anyone with information that leads to his arrest and prosecution could receive $70,000 by calling federal authorities at (310) 477-6565 or (805) 677-7357.