The Cambrian

Bank robbery suspect a regular casino gambler, investigators say

A surveillance photo shows the person who robbed the Cambria Rabobank on Thursday, Nov. 7.
A surveillance photo shows the person who robbed the Cambria Rabobank on Thursday, Nov. 7.

A former Santa Barbara County sheriff’s detective charged with robbing a Cambria bank last month had gambled more than $340,000 at a local casino in the past year — eight times more than his yearly income — according to a court document.

And on the night of the robbery, investigators allege, the suspect might have used the casino’s slot machines to launder some of the stolen bills.

Bruce Franklin Valentine, 70, of Paso Robles, is scheduled to appear in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Tuesday, when he is expected to ask for a reduction in his $250,000 bail.

Valentine, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of robbing the Rabobank in Cambria on Nov. 7. According to a search warrant filed with the court, Valentine worked with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department for seven years in the 1960s and 1970s in various roles, including detective, before he medically retired. Also a former iron worker and welder, at the time of his arrest, he was supporting a disabled daughter and two grandchildren with an income that came mostly from Social Security and a military retirement pension.

While Valentine took in approximately $3,500 with expenses of roughly $3,000 per month, according to the warrant, officials at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore told investigators Valentine had gambled over $340,000 since Jan. 1, losing close to $17,000.

Valentine became a suspect in the bank robbery after police found him in Cambria, driving a rental car an hour after the robbery. Valentine’s attorney, Ken Cirisan, could not be reached for comment Monday, and family members have previously declined to comment.

Witnesses to the robbery said a man armed with a handgun, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a Halloween mask, entered the bank around 12:30 p.m. with a sign demanding “no marked bills, no dye packs, put all of your money in the bag, large bills only.”

After walking out with $3,333, according to the search warrant, the following occurred: The robber drove away in what was described as a gray Hyundai. An hour later, both a CHP officer and a state Department of Fish and Wildlife officer, in separate incidents, stopped and spoke with Valentine, who was driving a gray Hyundai in the area.

During follow-ups, investigators with the sheriff’s office questioned Valentine about the car, which he said he had rented because he was going to have a dent on his pickup repaired. A body repairman in Atascadero confirmed that Valentine had sought an estimate for the repair.

When asked why he was in Cambria on Nov. 7, Valentine said after determining the auto body estimate was too high, he decided to drive around since he had already rented a car. He drove to Morro Bay, Cayucos and Cambria to check out fishing spots, he told detectives, and later went to the casino, where he had planned to meet his brother.

A manager at the casino said he played $822 and lost just over $160 that night. While casino management told investigators Valentine gambled roughly once a week, when questioned, Valentine said, “I don’t think I have a gambling problem.”

Later, police found several items believed to have belonged to the robber – including clothing, gloves and the note – at a fishing spot in Cambria. They also found size 11½ shoes, which is the size shoe Valentine told police he wore. The mask and gun were not found.

Police have said they hope to use DNA evidence to further connect Valentine to the evidence. They also will look into his medical records to confirm that he has an old football injury. Witnesses said the robber walked with a limp.

According to the search warrant, Valentine’s only other criminal arrest relates to a possession of stolen property case from 1985 though the warrant suggests he might have committed more crimes.

“Valentine has been able to laundry money without bringing attention to his activity,” the warrant states. “This is a testament to his level of criminal sophistication.”