A room with a view to one big mystery
It started 11 days ago when a resident at an upscale downtown L.A. high-rise tower smelled fumes coming from a neighboring apartment.
Firefighters knocked on the neighbor’s door but he refused to let them in. They called police, who broke down the door of the penthouse just as the man inside was escaping through a back window and down a fire escape carrying duffel bags.
“He escaped like Jason Bourne,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Mike Downing of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, referring to the movie spy character.
What they found next began a weeklong mystery.
The apartment contained sophisticated counterfeiting equipment as well as a cache of weapons including an AK-47. They also found stacks of counterfeit $100 bills totaling $15,000 and a camera tripod.
But detectives’ interest was really heightened when they looked outside the window and saw that the penthouse balcony had a spot-on view of the U.S. Federal Reserve building on Grand Avenue.
Detectives now are searching for the suspect, who leased the $3,400-a-month penthouse, paying one year in advance using stacks of cash.
Detectives are not sure what Brian Alexik, a 33-year-old New Jersey man, was up to and what role, if any, the Federal Reserve might have played in his schemes. They are not exactly sure whom they are dealing with because detectives found multiple identifications, including passports, listing different aliases for the man.
“The curiosity in this case is the strategic location in which he chose to operate,” Downing said.
Photos found at the apartment show Alexik with significantly different looks. In one photo, he’s clean-shaven, holding up a glass of wine and smiling. Another shows him somewhat heavier, with a beard and bandanna covering his forehead.
Police are now working with the U.S. Secret Service. Experts who have reviewed the counterfeit money say it’s of extremely high quality.
It appears Alexik kept to himself. The apartment manager declined to comment on the case.
The LAPD served search warrants at several downtown locations and Thursday announced the arrest of a man whom officials describe as an “associate” of Alexik. Gregory Koller, 32, was booked on suspicion of narcotics possession. Police said a search of his home and a downtown warehouse found evidence of “items consistent with manufacturing weapons.”
LAPD Capt. Steven Sambar, head of the department’s major crimes division, said there evidence was also found linking Koller to Alexik.
Detectives said they were puzzled about many aspects of the case. Sambar said it appeared that the pair were involved in weapons and drugs as well as counterfeiting — but it was unclear how large the operation was or whether it was connected to a larger criminal enterprise.
Sambar said the location of Alexik’s apartment overlooking the Federal Reserve “causes me great concern.”
The Federal Reserve bank in downtown L.A. is one of several branches of the 12th District of the Fed, which is based in San Francisco. According to the Fed’s website, the L.A. branch has 316 employees and serves financial institutions in Southern California, Arizona and southern Nevada.
The 12th District as a whole processed 17.2 billion currency notes in 2008, or about 68.4 million notes per business day. No breakdown was available for currency handled specifically by the L.A. office.
It all leaves many intriguing possibilities.
“There were many levels of criminality,” Downing said. “He’s funding a criminal enterprise. He’s dabbling in narcotics, he’s manufacturing weapons parts. But what is it? Was there a bigger plan? What was his intent? We have a lot of questions for him when he is arrested.”