Ex-Bank Manager Sentenced to Prison in Phony Bomb Robbery Plot

The woman claimed to be a hostage with a bomb strapped to her body during the attempted heist at a Los Angeles Bank of America branch where she was a manager

A woman who claimed she was kidnapped by men who attached a bomb to her body in a plot to rob the Southern California bank where she was a manager was sentenced Wednesday to nine years in prison for her role in the heist.

Aurora Barrera, 33, and ex-boyfriend Reyes Vega were convicted of bank robbery and conspiracy in March. Reyes was sentenced to 14 years in prison last month. Two co-defendants pleaded guilty and testified against the couple.

Barrera, a former manager at the Bank of America branch in East Los Angeles, claimed she had been kidnapped and forced to wear a device that looked like a bomb when she convinced a co-worker to help her empty the vault in September 2012. Authorities said the bomb was a realistic fake, warranting a bomb squad response.

The device -- fashioned out of a flashlight and wrapped in black electrical tape -- was safely detonated outside the bank building in the 900 block of South Atlantic Boulevard. Aerial video showed investigators escorting Berrera to a sheriff's department patrol vehicle after authorities removed the fake bomb.

As for the money, not all of it has been recovered. At Wednesday's hearing, the judge asked Berrera, "Where's the money?"

Berrera, who also was ordered to pay more than $500,000 in restitution to the bank, stood silently and did not address the court, City News Service reported. She was allowed to remain free on bond and ordered to surrender Sept. 8.

Defense attorney Anthony Eaglin asked for leniency and characterized Berrera as "an unwitting participant." He repeated her claims that she was kidnapped at her Huntington Park home on the morning of the robbery

But prosecutors countered that she was involved in the planning of the hoax bomb plot and robbery. She used her familiarity with the bank and its operations to help her co-conspirators, then misled investigators by telling them to look for "two black men" instead of the real criminals when they asked her to provide a description of the subjects, prosecutors said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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