An Oakland man pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to charges that he robbed or attempted to rob 19 banks across Northern California, including in Palo Alto and Mountain View, between March 2018 and February 2019.
Duane Makela, 50, admitted in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer that he committed 10 armed bank robberies, seven unarmed bank robberies and two attempted bank robberies in his crime spree, which mostly occurred at banks and credit unions in the Bay Area but also in towns in or near the Sierra Nevada.
Federal prosecutors said that as part of his plea Makela agreed that he entered the banks and credit unions and demanded that employees hand over money.
Prosecutors said Makela also acknowledged that during each armed robbery he brandished what appeared to be a handgun, directed employees of the banks and credit unions to hand over money and stole a total of $69,000.
A federal grand jury indicted Makela on May 7, initially for five of the robberies.
Two of the robberies took place in Palo Alto: one at the Comerica Bank at 250 Lytton Ave. on April 13, 2018 and another at Wells Fargo Bank at 505 California Ave. on Feb. 4. One occurred in Mountain View at Meriwest Ciredit Union at 580 N. Rengstorff Ave. near West Middlefield Road on Oct. 19, 2018.
The 50-year-old man admitted to stealing $2,843 from the Wells Fargo Bank, which faces El Camino Real in Palo Alto, according to the indictment. The theft triggered a neighborhood search by police involving a K9 unit, but they were unable to find Makela.
The Oakland man brandished a black handgun in the Mountain View robbery, where he stole a total $1,100. He dropped a note later retrieved by authorities that 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."
Makela is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 15.
The prosecution resulted from investigations by the FBI with assistance from multiple police departments, including those in Pleasant Hill, Orinda, Daly City, Oakland, San Ramon, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Burlingame, Mountain View, South San Francisco and Alameda.
The sheriff's offices of Contra Costa, El Dorado, Marin, and Alameda counties also assisted in the investigation.