Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
The FBI has been chasing bank robbers since the 1930s when John Dillinger and his gang robbed banks during the Great Depression.
Now federal agents, assisted by local authorities in Albuquerque, are trying to track down at least 16 unidentified men responsible for a deluge of bank robberies that have hit the Albuquerque area since early December. Some robberies occurred on the same day, according to an FBI website.
Since the FBI saw an uptick beginning in early December, some 20 bank robberies and one attempted bank robbery have been reported in the Albuquerque area, the FBI website shows. Another bank robbery occurred in Santa Fe.
Compare that to the number of New Mexico bank robberies reported by the FBI in 2020: just 12. There were 20 bank robberies reported in 2019. FBI bank robbery data wasn’t immediately available on Friday for 2021.
Most of Albuquerque’s bank robberies that occurred since the recent spike remain unsolved, according to federal records.
At least two men of those being sought have been listed as serial bank robbers on the FBI’s website, according to the bankrobbers.fbi.gov website.
One is believed to be responsible for at least eight bank robberies dating back to Sept. 28. Another robbed three banks in the span of a week in Albuquerque, the website shows.
“We find out that most of our bank robberies involve folks who have drug addiction problems. Some of these people need social services,” said Frank Fisher, FBI spokesman in Albuquerque.
Fisher said the FBI is concerned the robbers could become more emboldened if they aren’t caught.
“We need to protect the public and get a person who is committing bank robberies off the street, because this person has an increased likelihood of hurting someone,” Fisher told the Journal in an interview Friday, less than an hour before he, FBI agents and Albuquerque Police responded to yet another robbery at an Uptown Albuquerque bank.
In that case, an unknown male with a handgun and wearing a “Gas Monkey Garage” jacket fled after demanding and receiving an undisclosed sum of money from a teller.
Just two days earlier another man, in a track suit and carrying a handgun, defied Wednesday’s winter storm to try to rob a bank branch inside a Walmart store at 301 San Mateo SE. He left without obtaining any money.
All bank robberies are investigated by the FBI, Fisher said.
“This has been our bread and butter since the 1930s when the banks became federally insured,” Fisher said. “We’ve been chasing bank robbers since John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd.”
The FBI still issues wanted posters, similar to those once placed inside U.S. post offices. These days, the agency puts wanted posters on bankrobbers.fbi.gov, a national website, to solicit tips from the public. The website features photos taken by bank security cameras and descriptions of the robbers whose identities are unknown.
But identifying the men from surveillance footage is a challenge because all the robbers were wearing face masks, which are required to be worn in indoor public places under COVID-pandemic protocols.
Most all wore baseball caps; one wore a black fedora with a gold band.
Over the past two months, two men have been charged federally for Albuquerque-area bank robberies or attempted robbery. Andres Manuel Castro was charged in a Jan. 25 robbery at a bank inside a Walmart on Coors. Blvd. Castro allegedly had cash from the robbery protruding from his pockets when he was located by Albuquerque Police after fleeing the bank on foot, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Angel Lara, 33, is awaiting trial on a federal attempted bank robbery charge filed Dec. 1 after being accused of trying to rob a West Side bank Nov. 30. During a one-hour standoff with Albuquerque Police, he asked them to shoot him, a criminal complaint alleges.
Lara implied he had a gun in his jacket, according to an FBI complaint, but then said he “wasn’t there to hurt anyone because his parents were in trouble.”
Just last week, a 54-year-old Boulder, Colorado, man who confessed to a Sept. 23 bank robbery in southwest Albuquerque appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge in Albuquerque.
In Jason Deane’s case, he allegedly said he was in fear of his life and decided to rob a Bank of the West because he “thought he might be safer in jail,” according to a criminal complaint.
After robbing the bank, Deane allegedly made his getaway on an orange motorcycle and sped west out of Albuquerque where he stopped at the Route 66 Casino. He then told a casino employee to call police because “he had just robbed a bank in Albuquerque,” the complaint states.
Deane, whose criminal history dates back at least three decades, opted not to contest a U.S. Attorney’s motion to detain him pending trial. If convicted of the federal bank robbery charge, Deane faces up to 20 years in federal prison. Under federal law, bank robberies involving the use of a weapon carry a 25-year sentence.
Fisher stressed that bank robbery isn’t a “victimless crime.”
For instance, when Lara allegedly demanded money from a Wells Fargo bank teller on Nov. 30, two customers and some bank employees were able to run out of the building, but six tellers were trapped behind the teller station, a criminal complaint states. After police arrived on the scene to speak with Lara, the tellers managed to hide in a closet until he was taken into custody.
Fisher said he has witnessed tellers so distraught after a bank robbery that they were hyperventilating.
“These tellers, it’s very traumatizing for them, for someone to say ‘if you don’t give me money I’m going to blow your brains out,'” Fisher said. “Nobody, I don’t think even law enforcement, goes to work with that expectation. At least law enforcement officers can defend themselves.”