Grinning bank robber left a trail of clues

Published May 5, 2007

Cool and smiling, Ronny Guzman munched on a cookie as he approached the teller.

It was his fifth and final bank robbery in or near Clearwater since April 18, police say. He handed the clerk a note, demanded thousands of dollars and then left, still grinning.

By then, authorities say, Guzman's luck had already started to run out - that happened when he visited the Seminole Hard Rock Casino near Tampa.

The 24-year-old employee of Nielsen Media Research was arrested Thursday night and charged with the robberies.

His unravelling began, according to accounts from police and casino officials, when he tried to unload the dye-stained money.

He warned tellers against it, police say. One of his stickup notes read, "This is a robbery. Give me $20,000 or you will die. No dye pack."

But investigators say much of the $10,000-plus Guzman stole ended up being covered in red dye.

Police say he tried to launder the money by running it through coin machines, but after he drained the machines of all their quarters he had to move on.

On April 28, at 10:37 p.m., Guzman put a $100 bill into a slot machine at the Seminole casino.

The machine's bill reader didn't like the red dye. A light went off on the machine, which attracted an attendant.

Guzman, and a male friend he was with, dashed to the parking lot. They got into Guzman's dark blue, souped-up Subaru Impreza WRX and fled.

The incident might have gone unnoticed.

But on Monday, a detective with the Seminole tribal police department received a bulletin warning about a serial bank robber.

He took the picture of the bank robber to the surveillance technicians and one of them recognized the robber as the one trying to pass the tainted money. What's more, a lawn worker at the casino found $1,340 lying on the ground, covered in red dye - further confirmation that the bandit had been nearby.

The Seminole tribal detective gave a description of the suspect's car to the Clearwater Police Department.

Meanwhile in Clearwater, an alert detective noticed a similar car sitting in a parking lot in the Park Trace neighborhood. From there it was just a matter of getting the suspect's name off the driver's license database and staking out his house.

On Thursday, Guzman was arrested as he walked out of his home at 210 Fairwood Ave. Clearwater police Sgt. Gregory Stewart said Guzman confessed not only to the robberies in Clearwater and Largo but also to one in North Port in Sarasota County.

He told police that he robbed the banks "for the rush." In all, he took more than $10,000 in the five local robberies, and $2, 000 of that has been recovered.

Authorities said they are still investigating whether Guzman had help in committing the robberies.

Once Guzman had been identified, but before he was arrested, a Clearwater detective dropped his name in myspace.com.

A profile popped up with a smiling Guzman wearing the same blue shirt with orange stripes that he had worn in one robbery. The blue Subaru that was so important to his capture is pictured there, too.

Next to his photo, he posted a cryptic quote: "THERE IS WAR AND THERE WILL ALWAYS BE WAR."

The profile says he graduated from Patrick Henry Community College in Virginia in 2002.

Police said he has only been living in his current apartment for a few weeks.

But Friday he was behind bars, with bail set at $100, 000.

Largo police Sgt. John Trebino, whose agency investigated one of the robberies, said that was a relief.

"Like you or I would tie our shoe, he robbed a bank," Trebino said. "That's what made him interesting. He was real nonchalant."

Times researcher Catherine Wos contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 727 445-4157.