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Five arrested in Hollywood-style Los Angeles-area bank heists

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Police arrested five men who sawed into Los Angeles-area banks through the roofs in meticulously planned heists that involved everything from walkie-talkies to matching sneakers and netted a total of $6 million, authorities said on Wednesday.

The arrests capped a year-long 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, 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 the men worked together as a crew. But the suspects were not each believed to have been present at every one of the four banks that were hit, with different members of the crew working together at various times, said Sheriff's Lieutenant Kent Wegener of the major crimes bureau.

They used power tools to gain access to banks through the roofs and busted into bank vaults, police said.

They also employed walkie-talkies to communicate on-site and wore matching tennis shoes, to prevent any single crew member from being identified from footprints, Baca said. The getaway car was a van with no license plate, police said.

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

Aside from cash hauls, the men also took some jewelry from personal safe deposit banks, Baca said.

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

"These people were living rather lavishly," said Sheriff's Detective Nick Cannis, who worked on the case. He added that police got on the crew's trail when personal DNA found at one of the banks matched one of the suspects, who had served time in prison on another crime.

The five men arrested in connection with the heists are: Alceu John Andreis, 44; Lucian Gabriel Isaia, 32; Dean Andrew Muniz, 45; Laurentiu Penescu, 38; and Daniel Soto, 36, police said.

The men were each charged with two counts of burglary, grand theft, vandalism and conspiracy, except for Soto who was charged with only one count of each crime, Wegener said.

Court officials could not immediately provide the name of an attorney for any of the men.

Police said the men, who were all unemployed, did not betray any looks of surprise when officers arrested them on Friday.

"I guess they assumed it would happen someday," Cannis said.

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

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