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Five arrested in LA-area rooftop bank heists

Five suspects in a series of bank robberies are shown in this combination of booking mug shots released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's
Five suspects in a series of bank robberies are shown in this combination of booking mug shots released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a case straight out of a heist movie, police arrested five men in a burglary crew that sawed into Los Angeles-area banks through the roofs and netted a total of $6 million, authorities said on Wednesday.

The arrests capped a yearlong investigation of the men, who police say were involved in a scheme that targeted at least four Southern California banks since August 2011.

"This is something out of a movie script," Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca told reporters. "We're talking about a rooftop serial heist crew. We're talking about a lot of money, about $6 million total."

The men appear to have spent the money on such high-priced items as seven Ducati motorcycles, classic cars and a 24-foot power boat, police said. Those goods were recovered in searches of the men's homes.

The suspects, who had been under surveillance, were nabbed on Friday after they cut a hole in the roof of a Citibank branch in the Southern California city of Diamond Bar, Baca said. They were arrested when they tried to leave the site, police said.

Police said they got on the crew's trail when DNA found at one of the banks matched one of the suspects, who had served time in prison on another crime.

The five men worked together but that not all took part in each robbery, said Sheriff's Lieutenant Kent Wegener of the major crimes bureau.

They allegedly used power tools to gain access to banks through the roofs and busted into bank vaults. Police said they wore matching tennis shoes to prevent any single crew member from being identified by footprints.

"This is one of the most sophisticated and well-organized operations that we have ever come across," Baca said.

Police said the suspects had played cat-and-mouse with officers by leaving a bank after tripping an alarm and returning later once police had cleared the scene. They had composite materials to close up the hole in a roof and at times would hide in a bank's attic to evade detection from police helicopters, said Sheriff's Detective Nick Cannis, who worked on the case.

In the Diamond Bar heist, the men set off an alarm inside the bank vault but it was ignored by security personnel, Cannis said.

"The alarm company didn't believe that was something that could have been possible in the middle of the night," he said. They did not take anything from the vault and may have planned to return later, Cannis said.

In addition to cash in the previous three bank burglaries, the men took jewelry from safe deposit banks, Baca said.

The arrested men were identified as Alceu Andreis, 44; Lucian Isaia, 32; Dean Muniz, 45; Laurentiu Penescu, 38; and Daniel Soto, 36, police said.

Four men were charged with two counts of burglary, two counts of vandalism, two counts of conspiracy and one of grand theft, according to a criminal complaint. Soto was charged with burglary, vandalism and conspiracy.

Karen Lockhart, an attorney for Andreis, declined to comment. Attorneys for the other men could not be reached.

An arraignment for the men was set for April 23, said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. The suspects were held on bail ranging from $500,000 to more than $3 million, she said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Alden Bentley and Bill Trott)

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