A former Arroyo Grande resident pleaded guilty in federal court this week to three charges of bank robbery and admitted committing four others, including at banks in Paso Robles and Pismo Beach.
Robert Todd Bruce, 51, faces 60 years in federal prison, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.
Bruce pleaded guilty to three bank robbery charges, according to court documents. The banks that were robbed were Washington Mutual Bank on State Street in Santa Barbara on Nov. 2, 2008; Washington Mutual Bank in Sacramento on Dec. 30, 2008; and Wells Fargo Bank in Auburn on Jan. 5, 2009.
A task force dubbed Bruce the “El Camino Real Bandit” because surveillance images of his robberies indicated he robbed financial institutions along California’s historic Mission Trail, spokeswoman Lauren Horwood wrote in an email.
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Bruce was homeless during the time the robberies were committed, living out of hotels and vehicles, according to his plea agreement. During that time, from November 2008 through January 2009, he devised a plan to rob banks, working alone.
During that time, he robbed seven banks by producing a note demanding money. Five banks collectively reported losses of about $11,880.
Bruce robbed local banks in December 2008, first entering the Bank of America on Spring Street in Paso Robles on Dec. 4, 2008, according to the plea agreement. He produced a note demanding money and told the teller, “If you don’t, I’ll kill you,” or words to that effect, according to the agreement. He left with about $4,800.
On Dec. 23, 2008, he entered a Rabobank branch on Price Street in Pismo Beach and gave the teller a note demanding money. When the teller acted as if he or she did not understand, Bruce displayed a black semi-automatic handgun. He left with about $1,006.
Bruce was arrested after a robbery in Redding in January 2009. Two months later, he met with the FBI and confessed, stating to agents that he stole from banks “because there was no victim and the loss would be to a corporation which didn’t hurt anyone,” the plea agreement states.
As part of his plea agreement, Bruce has agreed to pay restitution for all of his bank robberies. He is currently in federal custody pending sentencing.
The investigation was conducted by the Sacramento Violent Crimes Task Force, consisting of the FBI and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.
Bruce was held in the Sacramento County Jail but is being transported to the United States Penitentiary in Lompoc to continue serving time for state convictions, Horwood said.