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Bank employee, along with $4 million he allegedly stole in 2011, still in custody in Mexico

By Casey Grove, McClatchy Newspapers –

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — About $4 million cash stolen from an Anchorage bank vault by its manager in 2011 remains, along with the alleged thief, in the custody of Mexican authorities more than a year later.

Gerardo Adan Cazarez Valenzuela, also known as Gary Cazarez, was a bank vault manager for Key Bank until he disappeared after the July 2011 heist. Federal prosecutors said the 27-year-old wheeled boxes holding $4.3 million cash out of the vault to his car, loaded the money into suitcases and flew to Seattle on a private plane.

With the help of a cab driver, Valenzuela bought an AK-47 and a handgun for $4,000 in Seattle, he told federal agents later. It’s unclear when Valenzuela met up with his girlfriend, Leysa Bindas, but the couple bought a Ford Fusion and drove south to California, according to a charging document.

They were planning on driving the car to Mexico to visit the girlfriend’s uncle in Sonora, but the uncle told them the car wouldn’t make it on the rough roads, so they bought bus tickets. The bus was pulled aside at a checkpoint and searched; that’s when the Mexican law enforcement found $3.8 million and the guns, according to the charging documents.

Just before the search, as Valenzuela realized they were being pulled aside for screening, he told his girlfriend they were in “serious trouble,” an agent wrote in the court papers.

When the weekend ended and Valenzuela hadn’t shown up for work that Monday morning, Key Bank employees were at first unable to open the bank vault, the charges say. They opened the vault door later in the day and discovered the money was missing.

More than a year later, Key Bank and federal prosecutors are still working to get the cash — and Valenzuela — back to Alaska, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Steward. Valenzuela did not appeal a request to extradite him, which was approved by the United States and Mexico, but the Mexican authorities are still holding Valenzuela and the money because they’ve filed their own charges against him, Steward said.

“We cannot complete extradition until Mexico has pursued their charges,” she said. “(The money) is currently, as I understand it, being held as evidence.”

Neither a lawyer for Key Bank or the bank’s spokeswoman returned calls seeking comment.

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