Bank robber's disguise his own undoing

The "Respirator Robber" ran into the crowded Bank of America in Santa Clara, blasting a bullet into the ceiling over terrified customers and rifling money drawers, confident his face was obscured by his strange, dark mask.

He was right - his get-up, which included a face covering used by painters, was the perfect disguise. And so he brazenly robbed that same bank three times, getting close to $20 grand a haul.

But this week police say 28-year-old Froilan Alix Roldan of Milpitas was unmasked - by his own mask.

Using a DNA warrant never used before in Santa Clara County, investigators arrested Roldan Thursday after saliva found on a part of a mask they had found after one of the bank heists matched Roldan's DNA.

"This guy was definitely a danger," said Santa Clara police detective Sgt. Brian Gilbert. "And hopefully other law enforcement will use this type of warrant to catch people."

Roldan is charged with one bank robbery - but he is facing close to 20 years in prison and is soon expected to be charged with at least two others. One of those bank heists - in 2003 - is being investigated by the FBI.

The unusual case began four years ago when a large branch of Bank of America, at 2925 Scott Blvd. in Santa Clara, was robbed by a suspect in a one-piece jumpsuit and respirator that covered his nose and mouth. In that heist, he shot a round into the ceiling as a crowd cowered on the floor and screamed.

The robber didn't stop.

He hit the same bank again in 2004. After that heist, the robber tossed aside a part of his mask and left it there. Detectives gave the mask to the Santa Clara County crime lab. Inside they found saliva - enough to get a comprehensive DNA profile.

They knew it was male. But despite running it every week, the DNA didn't match any samples to "John DNA Doe" within the state's criminal DNA database.

Meanwhile, the robber hit the bank a third time in September of 2005.

By now investigators realized the oldest of the Respirator Robber's heists would soon be difficult or impossible to prosecute. Most felonies - barring homicides and some sex crimes - pass their statute of limitations after three years.

So Santa Clara detectives Gilbert and Wahid Kazem and prosecutor Chuck Gillingham crafted an unusual warrant in 2006. Instead of a normal warrant, which lists a person, this listed the DNA code found in the mask. That gave them more time to work the crime.

This month, Gilbert, Kazem and Gillingham got their break.

There was a match - to a felon who had just served a short sentence for felony domestic violence. It was Roldan. And the match was so exact, Gilbert said, that the odds that it was not the Milpitas man were about 260 billion to 1.

They arrested the unemployed man late Thursday afternoon after arranging a visit to his probation officer under false pretenses.

During his interview, Roldan guessed what had led to his capture.

It was the mask, he said.