A state robbery charge was dismissed today against a man suspected of being the "Desperate Bandit" blamed for nine bank heists in Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino counties, with county prosecutors opting to let the U.S. Attorney's Office handle his prosecution in federal court.
Michael Patrick Downing, 47, of Chino Hills, had faced a felony charge stemming from a Nov. 23 holdup at a FirstBank branch in Indio. Riverside County prosecutors asked that the charge be dismissed, however, because Downing has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly carrying out nine bank robberies, including the Indio heist, according to John Hall of the District Attorney's Office.
Downing is in federal custody, according to court records.
On Nov. 23, officers stopped Downing on westbound Interstate 10 between Washington and Cook streets in a white Toyota Corolla he allegedly used to make his getaway after the robbery at FirstBank in the 82-900 block of Avenue 42, according to Ben Guitron of the Indio Police Department.
The robber, who handed the teller a demand note and said he had a handgun, was given cash before fleeing. An officer spotted the westbound Corolla on the freeway near Monroe Street about 11:50 a.m., Guitron said.
A two-liter bottle containing a clear liquid and rigged with wiring to look like a bomb was found in the car, but a sheriff's bomb squad determined it was inert, Guitron said.
Police notified the FBI about Downing's arrest and learned he might be the robber agents dubbed the "Desperate Bandit," Guitron said.
Downing "admitted he had done several bank robberies until he was stopped today by the Indio police officers," Guitron said after the suspect's arrest.
The Feb. 27 federal grand jury indictment charges Downing with robberies between Aug. 8 and Nov. 23. The heists occurred at U.S. Bank branches in Chino, Anaheim and Placentia, Bank of the West branches in Fullerton, Tustin and La Habra, a Bank of America branch in Corona, a PacTrust Bank branch in Temecula and FirstBank in Indio, according to the indictment.
The indictment accuses Downing of stealing $2,150 from the Indio bank. The other eight robberies total more than $13,000, according to the indictment.