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Trial Begins For Bank Manager Accused In Heist Involving Phony Bomb

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Prosecutors called a bank heist in East Los Angeles using a fake bomb an “inside job,” and said that an assistant bank manager conspired with her then-boyfriend to steal half a million dollars in opening statements Tuesday.

Aurora Barrera, 33, of Huntington Park, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank robbery and bank robbery, with a special allegation of assault by use of a dangerous weapon.

Reyes “Ray” Vega, Barrera’s boyfriend, faces the same charges. Both face up to 30 years in federal prison if convicted.

On the morning of the heist on Sept. 5, 2012, prosecutors say Barrera wore a device resembling an explosive on her body so she would appear to be a hostage. A bomb squad raced to the scene to deal with what turned out to be a fake bomb.

Just about two percent of the nearly $500,000 that was stolen has been recovered, authorities said.

Vega, 34, was indicted last May, along with Richard Menchaca and Bryan Perez – both of whom have pleaded guilty and are expected to testify against their former co-conspirators.

The indictment alleges Vega masterminded the plot to rob the Bank of America branch where Barrera worked as an assistant branch manager. According to the indictment, the device Barrera wore was used so it would appear that explosives would be detonated unless an employee of the bank assisted her in accessing the vault.

Menchaca picked up cash placed outside of the bank by Barrera, and the three men later met at a hotel to split the proceeds, according to the indictment.

Following the crime, Barrera told authorities that two masked men had abducted her from her Huntington Park home and ordered her to throw money from a back door of the bank, according to federal prosecutors.

Barrera was charged in October. Her attorneys have said in court papers that they will employ a “duress” defense, arguing that their client broke the law under pressure from Vega, a former firearms instructor.

“More particularly, Barrera’s defense will target Vega at trial for, among other things, being a ‘pathological liar’ … constantly manipulating others to his own benefit, repeatedly preying on women, dating several women at the same time, promising marriage to several women at the same time, promising engagement for marriage to several women at the same time; all in his never-ending intent to manipulate, rob, steal, and cheat,” according to a defense document.

“Barrera intends to present evidence of Vega’s shenanigans in order to show that she was only one of Vega’s many victims of his never-ending schemes,” her attorneys wrote.

An earlier attempt to separate the defendants was rejected by U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real, who wrote that “Barrera has not met her burden of showing that a joint trial will manifestly prejudice her.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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