Police Arrest Suspect in as Many as 20 Bank Robberies

A man who police say is a suspect in as many as 20 bank robberies in Southwest Florida in recent months was arrested Tuesday outside a friend's house here.

The arrest came just hours after authorities say David A. Rodriguez, 53, robbed the Regions Bank on Lockwood Ridge Road. The robbery there was the second in less than a week.

"We got him," Manatee County sheriff's Detective Jason Fitzwater said outside the house in Bradenton where Rodriguez, wearing shorts and a Hawaiian-print red shirt, was arrested shortly after 7 p.m.

Detectives are investigating whether Tuesday's robbery is linked to other recent robberies in the Sarasota and Bradenton area, Sarasota Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Chuck Lesaltato said.

Rodriguez, a felon who was last released from Florida prison in December 2005, is only charged right now with probation violation, authorities said.

Additional charges are pending investigations by the Sarasota and Bradenton police departments and the Manatee Sheriff's Office, in addition to law enforcement agencies from Collier to Pinellas counties.

Rodriguez could be indicted on bank robbery charges in federal court, Manatee County sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said.

In Tuesday's robbery, a man entered the bank at 6204 N. Lockwood Ridge, implied he had a firearm and demanded money, the Sheriff's Office said. He fled to a red car that went east on University Parkway with another man at the wheel.

Jorge Arce, who manages the Kentucky Fried Chicken next to Regions, said he found out about the robbery when he went to exchange money at the bank and met the police.

He didn't see or hear anything during the robbery. Police asked him to turn over the tape of a security camera at the KFC.

He says the robbery makes him question whether his own business is safe.

"If someone wants money they just have to walk in, point a gun and what can you do? You just never know."

Authorities in Manatee and Sarasota counties want to talk to Rodriguez about several robberies in the area since March, when the Century Bank in 6300 block of Manatee Avenue West, in Bradenton, was robbed.

This month, someone robbed a Washington Mutual and then a Wachovia bank -- both are on 14th Street West in Bradenton, less than a mile apart -- on back-to-back days.

Manatee County sheriff's Capt. Bill Dixon said detectives learned that Rodriguez was hanging out at a friend's apartment in the 2900 block of 7th Avenue West in Bradenton.

An officer in the area spotted the man there Tuesday evening.

Sheriff's detectives in unmarked patrol cars took up positions around the house, only a few blocks from Manatee High School, and waited to make their move.

A neighbor said Rodriguez, who was behind the wheel of a maroon, early 1990s Nissan Maxima, was dragged out of the vehicle at gunpoint when he started to drive away.

"He wasn't going anywhere," said Dixon, the sheriff's captain.