Brothers and YouTube stars charged in connection with ‘bank robbery’ prank in Irvine

Alan and Alex Stokes appear in their "bank robbery" video, filmed in Irvine and posted in October.
Alan and Alex Stokes appear in their “bank robbery” video, filmed in Irvine and posted in October.
(Screenshot by Hillary Davis)

A pair of Irvine twin brothers with a popular YouTube channel showing them pranking friends and strangers are facing charges of false imprisonment and “swatting” after allegedly trying to convince bystanders — with more success than they anticipated — that they were bank robbers on the run.

The resulting video by Alan and Alex Stokes garnered close to 1.5 million views and probably garnered a few laughs — but not from the Irvine police officers or Orange County prosecutors who investigated, or the Uber driver who police reportedly held at gunpoint thinking he was involved in a real robbery.

The Stokes brothers, 23, have each been charged with one felony count of false imprisonment and one misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an emergency in connection with the Oct. 15, 2019 pranks, the Orange County district attorney’s office said Wednesday. They each face a maximum sentence of four years in state prison if convicted on all counts.

In a since-hidden 10-minute video, the brothers, dressed in all black and their identical faces obscured with ski masks, dart around the UC Irvine campus and take stumbling pratfalls as “money” spills out of a duffel bag. With a videographer nearby capturing their performances, the pair also approach bystanders asking them for directions to the closest bank “to make, like, a large withdrawal, if you know what I mean,” to be decoys or offering to split their “spoils.”

One scene in the video showed the men getting into an Uber car. The driver was unaware of the prank but was immediately wary and told the men to get out of his vehicle.

But according to the D.A., a bystander called the police thinking the brothers were real bank robbers and carjackers. Irvine police responded and ordered the driver out at gunpoint. He was released after police determined he was not involved in the hoax.

“We’ve had the police called on us, like, all day,” one twin said to a laughing group on the UCI campus. Then he recounted the Uber driver’s predicament. “Poor guy.”

Police warned the brothers that the stunt was dangerous and let them go too. Then later that day, the pair resumed filming, leading to more calls to police, prosecutors said.

UC Irvine announced Tuesday that its School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences program would would be enrolling students in fall 2021.

“These were not pranks,” District Atty. Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “These are crimes that could have resulted in someone getting seriously injured or even killed. Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect the public and when someone calls 911 to report an active bank robbery they are going to respond to protect lives. Instead, what they found was some kind of twisted attempt to gain more popularity on the internet by unnecessarily putting members of the public and police officers in danger.”

The brothers have posted more than 80 videos on their Stokes Twins channel, which has 4.8 million followers. Their other exploits, captured alongside the reactions of strangers, include one dressing in an inmate’s jumpsuit costume and pulling into drive-throughs with the other in the passenger seat dressed as a police officer with duct tape over his mouth, and passing gas and doing backflips in front of unsuspecting shoppers at Target.

The video that led to the criminal charges, titled “BANK ROBBER PRANK! (gone wrong),” shows the brothers’ interactions with police.

One twin said he didn’t expect the police response and most people laugh at their antics.

“Think about it,” an officer responded. “You’ve gotta be smarter than that man, you know better... What do you think people are gonna do?”

Neither of the twins spent time in Orange County jail, according to sheriff’s department records, and it was not immediately clear if they have hired an attorney. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

In a prologue to the bank robber prank video, the twins asked viewers to give them “100,000 likes, because we’re literally risking our lives doing this video.”

It got 70,000.

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