Mastermind behind East L.A. bank heist using a fake bomb gets 14 years

A robot and bomb squad were brought to the seen of a Bank of America where a robbery occurred in East Los Angeles on September 5, 2012. The leader of the heist was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

A man who conspired with an assistant manager to steal $565,500 from an East L.A. bank by having her -- his then-girlfriend -- wear a fake bomb to simulate a kidnapping was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison.

Reyes “Ray” Vega, 36, orchestrated an elaborate plan where Aurora Barrera, an assistant manager at the Bank of America branch, pretended to be kidnapped, and forced to rob the branch under the fear that a bomb strapped to her would explode.

The fake bomb was so convincing that after Barrera took the money from the safe on Sept. 5, 2012, with a coworker’s help and tossed it to her supposed kidnappers, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s bomb robot was used to pry the device off the woman.

Barrera initially told investigators she was kidnapped from her Huntington Park home by three men, made to wear the bomb and then driven to the bank, where she was forced to empty the vault and toss the money out a side door.


Huntington Park police and the FBI, however, determined Barrera knew her supposed kidnappers.

Barrera’s co-worker at the bank that day saw part of the license plate of the car that took the money away, according to prosecutors.

Investigators identified the vehicle as belonging to the father of her then-boyfriend, Vega, and tracked his movements that day to a Day’s Inn.

Security video shows the car and Vega meeting with two other men involved in the heist. Subsequent phone records and text messages tied the ring together, according to Asst. U.S. Atty. Justin Rhoades.

Barrera, 33, and Vega were found guilty of multiple bank robbery offenses in March after a week-long trial. The jury found the couple guilty of conspiracy to commit bank robbery and bank robbery.

The jury also found that Vega and Barrera committed the robbery by assaulting a bank employee with a dangerous weapon -- the fake explosive.

When Barrera dumped the money out of the bank, an accomplice, Richard Menchaca, picked up the money and drove away. Another accomplice, Bryan Perez, then took the cash, which was split among them at a hotel later that day, according to authorities.

Menchaca and Perez pleaded guilty and testified at the trial of Vega and Barrera. The pair are scheduled to be sentenced next month.


Menchaca and Perez received about $150,000 of the stolen money and subsequently spent much of it, according to Rhoades. The remaining $400,000 has not been found.

Barrera is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 6. Prosecutors are seeking to sentence her to nine years in prison.

To follow Southern California crime @lacrimes.