An Inside Job

Bank Robbery Trio’s Missteps Led Investigators to Them

Three roommates planned out a profitable bank heist with a movie-worthy plot twist. Unfortunately for the criminals, the story’s ending was written by FBI agents and San Diego Police Department detectives.

Jesus Ramon Garcia-Lopez, 21, had been working at a San Diego branch of a major national bank for about 18 months when a man entered the bank and passed a note through his teller station. The note read: “Give me all the money in both top and bottom drawer or someone in the lobby dies give me 30 mins before alerting anyone or I will be back and shoot people right away.”

Garcia-Lopez handed over the $23,070 he had stacked in his drawers.

An FBI special agent and a San Diego Police Department officer were the first to respond to the bank’s call about that robbery on June 6, 2018. Following standard procedure, they interviewed the victim teller.

The FBI agent reported that several things about the robbery itself and the interview with Garcia-Lopez struck the investigators as odd. First, the robber made off with a lot of money—many times what a typical bank robbery nets. Second, the demand note, which the robber left behind, was incredibly specific with its mention of an upper and lower drawer at the teller station. Third, Garcia-Lopez, who had just experienced a robbery, had little to say about the incident.

“His statement was extremely short and lacked any details,” said the FBI San Diego Field Office agent. “All Garcia-Lopez said was, ‘The robber came in, asked for money, and gave a note.’”

“Usually this is a fairly traumatic experience for victim tellers,” the case agent explained. “It was strange how brief his description was.”

Their suspicions about Garcia-Lopez stayed with them as the FBI San Diego Violent Crimes Task Force began an investigation of the robbery with partners in the San Diego Police Department’s Robbery Unit.

“This robbery trio may have thought they had a solid plan, but they were out of their depth.” 

Davene Butler, spokesperson, FBI San Diego

Shortly after the robbery, the task force officers discovered a video posted on social media that showed Garcia-Lopez and his roommate, Joe Mares, 22, doing what looked like some high-priced partying in Central America. Later, the robbery demand note came back from the lab with a fingerprint that belonged to Mares.

The missing piece: Who had robbed the bank, and how was he connected to Garcia-Lopez and Mares?

Some months later, police got a real-time tip about a suspicious vehicle. Officers from the El Centro Police Department stopped the car and found Mares inside with a man named Aldo de Jesus Gomez, 22, along with other passengers and evidence of potential wrongdoing. Officers took the men back to the El Centro Police Department and called in the FBI case agent.

In an interview at the police station, Gomez confessed to being the robber in the June 6 crime. At the time of the robbery, Gomez was often staying with Mares and Garcia-Lopez, but his name was not on their lease—making it harder for investigators to connect the three. He also confessed to committing two other bank robberies later in 2018 that didn’t involve his friends.

Mares confessed to writing the ransom note in the first robbery. He’d researched what a demand note needed to say to make sure a bank robber would walk out with the most cash from the teller.

Garcia-Lopez, the teller, later decided to turn himself in and admit the role he played in the heist.

“Gomez’s arrest was what allowed us to put the full picture together—that all three roommates had agreed to a plan,” the FBI case agent said. “Garcia-Lopez was to keep his teller drawer stacked with lots of cash, Mares wrote the note, and Gomez would walk in and give the note to Garcia-Lopez."

In 2019, Mares and Garcia-Lopez were sentenced to serve time in prison, subject to three years of supervised release, and ordered to repay the stolen funds. Gomez was sentenced on May 11, 2020, and also received prison time and a three-year period of supervised release. His restitution order was for the total stolen from all three bank robberies he committed.

“This robbery trio may have thought they had a solid plan, but they were out of their depth,” said Special Agent Davene Butler, a spokesperson for the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “In the end, our Violent Crimes Task Force closed this insider robbery heist and two other unsolved crimes.”