SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A U.S. soldier and two other men arrested on suspicion of following and robbing a Lake Forest man who won big at a Southland casino may be involved in a string of similar holdups, authorities said Monday.
Arrested early Saturday on suspicion of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery were Jonathon Atkins, 22, of Barstow, a soldier based at Fort Irwin; Gary Smith, 20, of Hacienda Heights, and Raymond Little, 18, of Duarte.
The men, all cousins, were arrested at a gas station at Western and Fountain avenues in Hollywood, and were being held in the Orange County Jail on $100,000 bail, with court appearances set for tomorrow, authorities said.
Seized in the suspects' vehicle was a replica Glock handgun, a military vest and a ballistic vest, Orange County Assistant Sheriff Mike Hillmann said at a news conference at sheriff's headquarters.
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The arrests came after authorities identified Atkins as a suspect in the Nov. 30 robbery of a Lake Forest man, Hillmann said.
In that case, three men followed the 66-year-old victim from the Commerce Casino to his Lake Forest home, Hillmann said.
One man pointed a gun and demanded money. When the victim refused, the gunman instructed him to turn around and get on his knees.
The victim, fearing he would be shot in the back, attempted to run away and dropped a large quantity of cash that was taken, Hillmann said.
Hillmann -- who was joined at a news conference by Warren Sorensen of the Department of Justice, Bureau of Gambling Control -- outlined eight similar robberies committed since October.
In one case, a Mission Viejo couple was followed home from the Hustler casino in Gardena on Oct. 24 and robbed of cash, a cell phone, camera and a purse.
Investigators provided the following details on a series of similar local holdups:
- About 11 p.m. on Sept. 18, two men in dark clothing followed a woman from the Hustler casino in Gardena to her home in Torrance and got away with a "large" sum of money;
- About 4 a.m. Oct. 10, a Redondo Beach woman who had patronized the Hustler casino was robbed of a large quantity of money by a man in his 20s;
- On Oct. 18 at 4 a.m., two men followed a 72-year-old man from Hustler to his Los Angeles home and used physical force to steal a large amount of cash;
- On Nov. 16, sheriff's investigators were contacted by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Gambling Control and told of two more pre-dawn robberies in Hawthorne, one on Nov. 7 and the other on Nov. 15, Hillmann said.
Atkins emerged as a suspect when tied him to a vehicle believed used in the follow-home robbery from the Commerce casino, authorities said.
Investigators followed Atkins for a week and identified other suspects, Hillmann said.
On Saturday, Atkins and two other suspects were seen apparently following a potential victim from the Commerce casino.
With the suspects following the victim, and authorities -- including Los Angeles police officers -- following the suspects, a decision was made to force a stop at a gas station in Hollywood to avoid possible harm to the victim, Hillmann said.
"It was determined by (the LAPD) that that was the best position to take them down," Hillmann said, adding that he "cannot speak to whether the victim was aware" of the pending police action.
Video of Saturday's arrest in Hollywood showed a large number of Los Angeles police and Orange County sheriff's deputies swarming two men in a car with North Carolina license plates.
"We do not have all the subjects in this case," Hillmann said, adding, "I think we've got a good start on the people who are doing it."
Orange County sheriff's investigator Jared Dahl said that even though the gun seized from the suspects was a fake, people should take seriously any such threat in a criminal confrontation.
Hillmann asked that anyone who may have been a victim of an unreported "follow-home" robbery to call sheriff's investigators at 714-628-7170.