Police gain ground on Peninsula heists

Two suspects accused of carrying out separate robberies earlier this month in the Peninsula were in court Monday, an indication that law enforcement may be making headway in catching suspects involved in the spate of bank heists this summer.

Eric Munoz, 40, of South San Francisco, pleaded not guilty Monday to an Aug. 10 robbery of a Bank of America at 919 Edgewater Blvd. in Foster City. He is also the suspect in a holdup on June 21 at U.S. Bank in downtown San Mateo and a July bank robbery in Millbrae.

In a separate robbery case, Phillip Guerra, 30, was ordered by a judge Monday to face two felony counts in the robbery of a Bank of America in Redwood City. Guerra was arrested in an alleged escape attempt on board a Caltrain in Belmont. He was found with $3,000 in cash as well as the demand note, prosecutors said.

Both alleged heists occurred within a rash of at least seven bank heists in the Peninsula since July 23.

According to FBI statistics, the number of reported bank robberies in San Francisco and San Mateo counties this year is creeping up to last year’s total. Between January and June of this year, there were 48 bank thefts, five more than the same period last year. There were 60 total heists in 2006.

FBI Special Agent Joseph Schadler in San Francisco said law enforcement is being proactive in combating bank robberies.

Police agencies network and alert other police departments after a bank robbery occurs. Redwood City police Detective Jeff Price said matching suspects to cases relies on finding patterns in suspects’ physical descriptions, how they talk to victims and the time incidents take place.

In the case of Munoz, a Cupertino construction worker, he wore a hard hat and an orange vest during his heists, according to prosecutors.

Banks use several methods to combat robberies. In Guerra’s case, a tracking device was placed in his bag. Bank representatives, however, do not openly specify what measures they take.

Munoz is in custody on $100,000 bail. He will appear in court Sept. 10 for a preliminary hearing. Guerra faces a maximum of five years in state prison and he also remains in custody on $100,000 bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 11.

bfoley@examiner.com

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