SMPD Catches ‘Bluto’ Bank Robbery Suspect

When he visited San Marino on Sept. 1, it was to case the Chase bank branch at Huntington Drive and San Gabriel Boulevard, according to the FBI.
When he returned nine days later, it was at a high rate of speed, with the San Marino Police Department in hot pursuit.
A suspect in multiple bank robberies around Southern California — dubbed the Bluto Bandit for the fake black beard he wore — was chased down by San Marino officers in Rosemead on Sept. 10 after he sped through San Marino from South Pasadena on Huntington Drive.
Officers in three SMPD vehicles were involved in the pursuit, which stretched for 3½ miles, according to Police Chief John Incontro. They were aided by a Pasadena police aerial unit. San Marino police ultimately corralled Joseph Adel Noriega, 37, of Rancho Cucamonga at the intersection of Mission Drive and Halkett Avenue in Rosemead, Incontro said.
It was a key capture, apparently. Laura Eimiller of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office said that Noriega is suspected in at least eight bank robberies in Southern California, “as well as multiple attempts and/or casings.” She said he was spotted in the Chase branch at Huntington and San Gabriel on Sept. 1, and was believed to be casing it for a possible future robbery.
Noriega was charged federally with bank robbery, according to David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s L.A. office.
The FBI alleges that this suspect was one prolific robber, with a wide territory. It tied him to bank robberies or attempts in Beaumont, Chino, Fontana, Irvine, Los Angeles, unincorporated Los Angeles County, Monrovia, Norco, Ontario, Pasadena, Riverside County and South Pasadena. The first of the eight robberies occurred on June 10, the last on Aug. 12, the FBI said.
He was called the Bluto Bandit because his fake beard gave him a resemblance to Popeye’s adversary in the old cartoons, authorities said.
Noriega was wearing the beard when he walked into the Chase branch at 1305 Fair Oaks Ave. in South Pasadena just after noon on Sept. 10, according to the South Pasadena Police Department. He presented a note to a teller demanding money but inexplicably fled the bank before he received any money, leaving the note behind, South Pasadena police said.
San Marino police were notified that the suspect was driving a white Volkswagen, which an officer spotted on Huntington Drive in the city. Incontro said the first SMPD black-and-white was unable to stay with the fleeing vehicle, but another SMPD officer in an unmarked car (without lights or siren) was able to pick up the chase before still another San Marino black-and-white pursued the vehicle and was able to stop it in Rosemead.
South Pasadena police reported that Noriega was still wearing the fake beard when arrested.
According to the FBI, Noriega’s modus operandi was to enter a bank wearing a baseball cap and the fake beard, which covered most of his face. He generally would not talk during the robberies but would pass a note to a teller, demanding cash and often advising the teller to remain calm, hand over the money within 15 to 30 seconds and not deploy security devices.
When he was arrested, officers found evidence including demand notes in the car, and the vehicle’s license plates had been reported stolen, the FBI said.

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