Former East L.A. Bank of America assistant manager Aurora Barrera and ex-boyfriend Ray Vega have been charged with conspiracy to commit bank robbery and bank robbery with a special allegation of assault by use of a dangerous weapon.
Barrera and Vega are accused of stealing more than a half-million dollars, much of it which remains missing. Only about 2 percent of the $565,000 stolen has been recovered, authorities said.
The bank robbery was caught on tape, and conflicting tales of intrigue were presented in court Tuesday.
"How do you steal half a million dollars from a bank?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Shay asked the jury in her opening statement. "You have someone on the inside."
On the day of the robbery, Sept. 5, 2012, Barrera told deputies that two unidentified "masked men" kidnapped her on her way to work, taped an explosive device to her body, and then ordered that she open the vault and toss all the bank's cash out the side door. Two men then drove off with $565,000.
After a nearly two year investigation, prosecutors still don't know what happened to most of the money that was taken.
On Tuesday, the head of the bomb squad testified that the device looked very authentic, but turned out to be a fake.
Prosecutors told jurors that Barrera and Vega, conspired to pull off the heist. Vega, the prosecutor continued, "planned this bank robbery well in advance," and bragged to friends about it afterward.
After the heist, Vega allegedly paid $15,000 for cosmetic surgery to enhance his biceps, chest and abs.
Barrera's attorney, Anthony Eaglin, offered an alternate theory. He said his client was duped and that Vega, a former U.S. Marine, masterminded the job, recruited two U.S. Marine buddies to help, and then seduced her.
Eaglin said Barrera was lonely when she was introduced to Vega. He then targeted her and "stole her heart." Vega was painted as a scoundrel and as a married man who continued to date women.
Adam Koppekin, the attorney for Vega, didn't dispute his client's alleged womanizing ways.
"He is a womanizer, he is a charming man, he is a handsome man", but not a robber, Koppekin said.
The defense lawyer went on to say that Vega's buddies, identified as Richard Menchaca and Bryan Perez, planned the robbery. Menchaca was a longtime friend of the Vega family, which was why two cars allegedly used in the scheme belonged to Vega's parents.
"Don't forget Mr. Menchaca himself is a discharged Marine," Koppekin said. "Mr. Menchaca, himself, knows logistics and planning and could have easily set this up, which we believe he did."
Menchaca and Perez have already pleaded guilty in the case and are expected to testify for the prosecution.
In the trial ahead, Vega is expected to testify in his own defense.
Barrera and Vega face up to 30 years in federal prison if convicted on all charges.
CNS contributed to this report.