Alaska bank employee charged with stealing $4.3M

AP News
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Posted: Aug 18, 2011 4:31 PM
Alaska bank employee charged with stealing $4.3M

An Anchorage bank employee embezzled more than $4 million the old-fashioned way _ by carrying it out of the building, according to federal prosecutors.

Gerardo Adan Cazarez Valenzuela, 26, is charged with stuffing $4.3 million into computer boxes and wheeling them out of a KeyBank vault on a rolling cart. He was arrested in Mexico on Aug. 1 and indicted Wednesday by a grand jury in Anchorage, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Valenzuela, also known as Gary Cazarez, remained in Mexico on Thursday.

Details of the case were revealed in an affidavit filed by FBI agent Susan Cusack based on bank surveillance equipment, interviews with employees and admissions by Valenzuela.

According to Cusack, Valenzuela entered the vault at 6:39 p.m. July 29 _ a Friday _ with three computer-size boxes on a rolling cart. He turned out the vault light and filled the boxes with cash.

Just 16 minutes later, he was pushing the boxes and a computer bag out of the vault, Cusack said, and by 7 p.m., he was loading the boxes into a vehicle known to be driven by him and his girlfriend. Five minutes later, he was spotted returning the cart to the cash vault room and then driving away.

Valenzuela drove to his home and transferred the cash to duffel bag suitcases, according to the affidavit, then drove to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, where two days before he had arranged for a private charter.

The charter reached Seattle-Tacoma International Airport around midnight and Valenzuela hailed a cab to take him to his girlfriend, Leysa S. Bindas, who was visiting family and friends in the Tacoma area.

While in the cab, according to the FBI, Valenzuela asked the driver where he could buy a gun. The cab driver hooked him up with a seller and Valenzuela bought an AK-47 rifle, a handgun and ammunition for $4,000. The cab driver then drove Valenzuela to the home of Bindas' sister.

The next morning, they bought a used compact car from a dealer in Auburn, Wash., and drove south, intending to visit Valenzuela's uncle somewhere in the Mexican state of Sonora.

Upon reaching Tijuana, south of San Diego, Valenzuela reportedly called his uncle and was advised to take a bus because the small car would have trouble driving over the difficult terrain.

On Aug. 1, according to the FBI, Valenzuela bought two bus tickets and abandoned the car.

The bus was stopped at a checkpoint in Sonoita, Mexico, later that day. Valenzuela and Bindas collected their luggage, and as they walked through a check line, they were flagged for further inspection.

According to the FBI agent, Valenzuela turned to Bindas and told her they were in serious trouble. Valenzuela was asked to open his suitcases, and Mexican authorities found weapons, ammunition and about $3.8 million.

Back in Anchorage, Valenzuela had not shown up for work after the weekend. Bank officials made repeated attempts to open the cash vault Monday but could not because it had been time-locked.

Cusack was on hand a day later at about 12:45 p.m. when the cash vault door was opened and bank employees quickly discovered that large amounts of cash were missing. An audit put the figure at $4.3 million.

The U.S. attorney's office said in a statement that procedures will be started to have Valenzuela returned to Alaska to face a charge of theft of bank funds.

Bindas was not charged.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Joseph Bottini and Aunnie Steward said federal law provides for a sentence of up to 30 years if Valenzuela is convicted, but his actual sentence would be based on the seriousness of the offense and criminal record.