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Evidence builds in Band-Aid robberies

One man partially confesses. Agents find stacks of cash, and Band-Aids, in the other's house.

By CARRIE WEIMAR, BRADY DENNIS, EDDY RAMIREZ and ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published July 22, 2006


TAMPA - When law enforcement agents swarmed the Clermont residence of the man suspected of being the Band-Aid Bandit on Thursday, they found a 64-quart cooler in a room by the garage.

Inside, they discovered makeup, two ski masks, two wigs, a fake beard and mustache, two unexploded dye packs and $86,116 in cash still wrapped in bank bands.

And a box of Band-Aids.

The day after the arrest of Rafael Rondon, 50, who police say is the Band-Aid Bandit, and Emeregildo Roman, 54, law enforcement officers offered a glimpse of the case they are building against the two men.

During a bail hearing in U.S. District Court in Tampa on Friday, Steve Davenport, a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, laid out evidence that federal prosecutors believe will link Rondon and Roman to 39 robberies in west-central Florida over the past six years. The men have been charged in only three of the robberies, but more charges are expected.

Roman, who police say was Rondon's accomplice, offered a partial confession after his arrest, Davenport said.

Officers told Roman that a Chrysler 300 registered to him showed up on a surveillance tape from an air-conditioner supply store across from the Fifth Third Bank in Pinellas Park robbed by the Band-Aid Bandit on July 13.

Roman was visibly shaken by the information, Davenport said.

"He said he and Rafael Rondon had been conducting surveillance on the bank and they had done so on five occasions," Davenport said.

Roman initially denied participating in any of the bank robberies.

Then the agents tried a little flattery.

Officers told Roman a witness during the Oct. 28 robbery of the Mercantile Bank in Tampa mentioned the politeness of the man who told her to get down on the ground.

"He admitted that was him," Davenport said.

Next, Roman was asked why he became involved with bank robberies.

"He said he was going through a difficult time, that he was divorced and lost everything he had," Davenport said. "He also commented it was stupidity."

Roman said his partner, Rondon, decided to rob banks because he was out of a job and didn't want to work for anyone else, Davenport said.

Roman and Rondon are brothers-in-law. Roman is married to Rondon's sister.

Records from Orange County show that in the late 1990s, Rondon faced his share of money problems.

In 1996, SunTrust Banks sued Rondon for more than $5,500 in unpaid Visa bills. The court file includes copies of the escalating bills.

It also includes Rondon's original credit card application from 1993. On it, he said that he was making $28,000 a year as manager for a Circle K store, an income supplemented by his wife's $19,000-a-year job at a travel agency.

The case eventually was resolved, although it wasn't clear Friday how much Rondon repaid the company.

A year after the lawsuit in 1997, Rondon again ran afoul of the law. Records show he wrote a bad check to Publix for $177 and was arrested on a charge of obtaining property through a worthless check. He received time served in jail, court costs and a promise to pay restitution.

But the case file also revealed several details of Rondon's personal life and ongoing money troubles.

In an affidavit, he claimed at the time that he had $360 to his name and listed a car valued at $1,000 as his only asset. Meanwhile, he wrote, he had $3,000 in unpaid debts.

Rondon said he was a college-educated single man with three sons, ages 4 to 10, who depended on him.

More than a dozen family members filled a bench in the courtroom Friday. Several dabbed at tears during the proceedings. They declined to speak with reporters.

Terry Christian, Roman's court-appointed attorney, suggested his client's confession wasn't valid because Roman's first language is Spanish. A court-appointed interpreter translated Friday's proceedings for Roman.

But Davenport said Roman conversed in English throughout their discussions Thursday. Agents offered to get him an interpreter but he declined.

When asked if he understood his rights, Roman nodded and said yes in English, Davenport said. Roman also signed a waiver.

Rondon remained tight-lipped with detectives.

However, Davenport described a wealth of evidence found at Rondon's home.

In addition to the cooler, agents found a brown Chevrolet Blazer, like the one spotted outside the Fifth Third Bank the morning it was robbed. The license plate and wheels shown on the surveillance tape were removed from the car but found inside Rondon's home, Davenport said.

Rondon's palm prints and fingerprints were found at the Fifth Third Bank in Pinellas Park, Davenport said.

Agents are still comparing Rondon's fingerprints with those found at other bank robberies and expect to find more matches.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Murphy-Davis said the pair, if convicted, could be sentenced to 57 years in prison on firearms charges alone. They face a maximum sentence of life in prison, she said.

Murphy-Davis asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson to deny bail for Rondon and Roman. The judge agreed and ordered the men to jail.

Friends and neighbors of the two were still reeling from the news of the pair's suspected secret life. No one in Rondon's suburban Clermont neighborhood - not even the Orlando police officer who lived across the street - seemed to suspect something was amiss.

Officer Willis Weaver said he was investigating a separate crime in Orlando when he was told that authorities had caught up with the Band-Aid Bandit.

"I got this frantic call from my wife," Weaver said Friday. "I told her I was working a crime scene and couldn't talk."

When she told him that Rondon had been arrested, Weaver was in disbelief.

Weaver had seen wanted posters of the Band-Aid Bandit at work and read about him in the newspapers. He couldn't believe he shared the same neighborhood with a key suspect in a notorious string of bank robberies.

"For years, I have parked my police car out here every night," Weaver said.

Weaver wondered whether the Rondon family would return to the neighborhood.

"I feel bad for his kids," Weaver said. "They will have to leave the neighborhood. Nobody is going to want to deal with them."

No one answered the door Friday at the Roman family's beige stucco home at 415 Madina Circle in Davenport. An artificial Christmas tree lay in the front yard near an overflowing garbage can.

Down the street, Carmen Acevedo, 30, said she can't believe the man accused of helping the Band-Aid Bandit lived on her street. The Romans didn't stand out.

"You don't see anything at that house, ever," she said.

Times staff writer Jonathan Milton contributed to this report.