The fifth and final member of a bank burglary crew that stole millions of dollars by using power tools to cut though building roofs to gain access to cement bank vaults has been sentenced in Los Angeles to about four years behind bars.
The crimes sounded as if they were made up for a trite movie plot, but they were all too real.
Lucian Gabriel Isaia of Beaumont, 36, was Wednesday also ordered by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer to pay a share of $12 million in restitution and serve three years of supervised release following his 51-month federal prison sentence.
The five men linked to the crimes were arrested in April 2013, following a year-long investigation that involved a surveillance operation by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, who were on hand when the suspects tried to rob a Citibank branch in Diamond Bar.
Recovered evidence included a portion of the bank’s roof, roofing material, two-way radios, tools, gloves and ski masks.
The leader of the crew, Alceu Johnny Andreis of Banning, was sentenced in March to 20 years behind bars after a jury convicted him of bank burglary charges.
Wearing the same-size shoes and identical clothing, the robbers developed a coded language to use on walkie-talkies, making several dry runs before cutting and sealing holes in bank rooftops and returning later.
Andreis, 48, had special knowledge of how to break into bank vaults through the roof, a method perfected during nearly two decades of cutting holes in roofs and burglarizing businesses, including a branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles and a church.
The men “knew how to select a bank with a penetrable roof; locate the vault from overhead using a sonar device; cut a hole in the roof and install braces to keep the removed section in place until their subsequent return,” a prosecutor wrote.
The burglary crew scouted banks to determine optimal conditions, including prime lookout spots, easy getaway routes and secluded rooftops; purchased all necessary construction equipment, later wiping it down for fingerprints and DNA; and trained together and conducted surveillance.
In a brief statement to the court, Isaia apologized to the victims and pledged to repay his share of their losses, although Fischer indicated he had no means to do so.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanna M. Curtis commended Isaia for his “extraordinary” cooperation in the government’s investigation.
In interviews with prosecutors, Isaia was able to recall “with precision” where and when heists took place and how much was taken, Curtis said.
Isaia pleaded guilty to involvement in the robbery of an East West Bank branch in Rowland Heights in 2011 in which $1 million in cash was stolen and safety deposit boxes containing $14 million in valuables were emptied.
A Preferred Bank location in Diamond Bar was hit a few months later, but the job was abandoned, prosecutors said. In September 2012, thieves broke into the vault of the BBCN Bank branch in Diamond Bar, taking $2.43 million in valuables.
As part of his plea agreement, Isaia forfeited to the government several luxury vehicles, a boat and a motorcycle.
The other members of the crew have been sentenced to federal prison terms. Daniel Soto of Riverside, 40, is serving nearly four years after pleading guilty and cooperating with authorities. Laurentiu Penescu of Yucaipa, 42, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and attempted bank burglary and was sentenced to a three-year term for the failed Diamond Bar heist. Dean “Dino” Muniz of Fontana, 49, is serving 10 years after pleading guilty to bank burglary.
Andreis, Isaia and Penescu were convicted a decade ago of several Riverside County rooftop thefts. In those heists, more than $3.5 million in cash and gems were stolen from jewelers and other businesses in Palm Springs and Temecula.
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