An Oakland man was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Francisco Tuesday on charges of committing five bank robberies in the Bay Area between October and February, including two on the Midpeninsula.
Duane Kurt Makela, 49, allegedly stole a total of $33,301 in the robberies in Mountain View, South San Francisco, Alameda, Castro Valley and Palo Alto.
The Palo Alto robbery was on Feb. 4 at a Wells Fargo bank at 505 California Ave., where Makela allegedly demanded money from a teller by passing a note and fled with cash through a parking lot. According to a May 7 federal indictment, he absconded with $2,843 from the Palo Alto robbery. The theft led police to conduct a neighborhood search with help from a police K9, but officers were unable to find the robber.
The Mountain View robbery took place on Oct. 19 at Meriwest Credit Union at 580 N. Rengstorff Ave., which is located within a strip mall near West Middlefield Road. Makela allegedly entered the bank at 5:43 p.m. dressed in a blue sweat suit with Navy and military-related insignia. He presented a demand note to a teller, which threatened the teller with a gun and demanded money. Makela allegedly displayed a black handgun, according to an April 26 federal complaint. The teller told police that he believed if he did not produce money that the robber would have shot him.
As the first teller was following the note's instructions, Makela allegedly told a second teller to give him the money. He allegedly took a $100 bill from the second teller's drawer and received $1,000 in cash from the first teller. He then fled the bank, according to the complaint.
The robber allegedly dropped a note as he fled, which law enforcement later recovered. The note read in all-capital letters:
"I have a gun, will use it.
Pass all $ now!
You deviate, I'll be back 4 U.
No alarms (sic) I'm watchin (sic) your hands
Dont (sic) even think bout (sic) button."
Federal investigators submitted the note to a crime laboratory and recovered fingerprints from the note. The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Identification Unit matched the prints to Makela, according to the complaint.
Investigators also noted that he was previously convicted of armed bank robbery in northern California. He was indicted in 1999 for armed robbery, use of a weapon in the commission of a crime of violence and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was convicted and sentenced to 13-and-a-half years in prison for those crimes.
Federal investigators also identified Makela through surveillance footage. And electronics forensics also found that within minutes of the Mountain View robbery, Makela's cellphone "pinged" at the closest tower to the Meriwest Credit Union, according to the complaint. Makela's cellphone was also picked up multiple times at cell towers near the South San Francisco robbery, according to the complaint.
A search of Makela's residence and car on April 23 found evidence consistent with disguises used in the robberies including wigs, fake facial hair, a disguise kit, black sunglasses with reflective lenses and various clothing items. Federal investigators also located two black BB guns that looked like actual firearms.
In addition to the Palo Alto and Mountain View robberies, Makela allegedly robbed $16,930 from a Chase Bank at 101 McClellan Drive in South San Francisco on Oct. 22, 2018. He allegedly handed the teller a demand note, which, according to the employee, stated "Hand over the big bills." He placed a pillow case on the counter, which appeared to have a handgun inside and stated: "Hand over the big bills," according to the complaint.
He allegedly took $11,500 in currency while robbing a U.S. Bank in a Safeway at 2227 South Shore Center in Alameda on Nov. 5, 2018, according to the indictment. On Dec. 23, 2018, he allegedly robbed a U.S. Bank inside a Safeway at 20629 Redwood Road in Castro Valley of $928, according to the indictment.
The court unsealed the indictment Wednesday after Makela was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Sallie Kim, who ordered he be held in custody without bail.
Four of the heists were charged as armed bank robberies, which carry a maximum possible sentence of 25 years upon conviction. The fifth robbery was charged as a bank robbery, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Makela's next court appearance is scheduled for May 23 before U.S. District Judge William Orrick, the trial judge assigned to the case.