When the gang of suspected bank robbers was arrested at an Olympia bus depot, each had a lot of cash and a lot of different stories about where it came from.
Jeanine Daniels, 32, said the $4,807 shoved in her socks and stashed in her purse was tips for doing hair. She said she’d ridden the bus from Los Angeles to Washington state to do some Christmas shopping but couldn’t explain why she was going home without any gifts.
Curtis Smith, 22, said he came to Washington to sell information on how to make methamphetamine and the $2,487 he was carrying was payment for the drug deal. Despite investigators watching him hug and chat with the other suspected bank robbers, Smith insisted he knew none of them.
His cousin, Douglas Smith, 22, said he found $3,825 lying in the street.
Kevin Brown, 38, offered no explanation. He just watched as investigators removed $6,972 from his backpack and $392 from his wallet.
The four are among seven people charged with three counts of bank robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit bank robbery in connection with a five-year string of holdups in the South Sound area, Michigan and Ohio.
The suspects had preliminary court appearances Thursday, in which they were advised of the charges against them and possible penalties. They are being held in federal custody and have a hearing set for Feb. 14.
Similar charges Pierce County prosecutors filed against the group this month were dismissed Thursday.
Warrants have been issued for Charles Williams, 39, and Janalisa Estrada, 33, who are suspected of being involved in the bank robberies.
Federal prosecutors allege the seven in custody are Los Angeles gang members who rode buses to other states to hold up banks and have been honing their methods since the 1990s.
They say the group came to visit Anthony Mosley, 46, at his Tacoma home, which served as a base camp for the gang while they scouted area banks. Mosley, who allegedly acted as the getaway driver, also has been charged.
Authorities say they found $1,161 next to Mosley’s bed and a pillowcase used in one of the robberies wadded up and hidden under two blankets in a spare room.
Mosley’s wife, whom he met on the Internet and recently wed, told investigators she noticed the pillowcase was missing when the Smiths’ last stayed at her house. That was in early September, when prosecutors say they did a takeover-style robbery at a U.S. Bank branch in Lakewood.
The gang is believed to have knocked over banks in Lakewood, Kirkland and Seattle.
The FBI South Sound Gang Task Force is looking into whether they also robbed a Washington Federal branch in Federal Way on Sept. 13, an Ohio bank last year and at least 10 banks in Michigan in 2011 and 2012.
Prosecutors called the gang’s work a “highly sophisticated” conspiracy in which they looked for banks without guards or “bandit barriers,” and stole a getaway car, court records show.
Three men wearing masks would enter the bank, jump over the counter, take money and escape in less than two minutes. They then would abandon the getaway car and switch to a rental car.
Mosley’s wife told investigators she was always asked to rent a car when her husband’s L.A. friends visited, and they were particular about what they wanted.
In the Lakewood bank robbery Sept. 6, 2012, a witness saw a group matching the description of the gang members pile into a white SUV after abandoning a stolen Buick in an alley two blocks from the bank.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653