By DIANNE SOLÍS and TANYA EISERER DIANNE SOLÍS and TANYA EISERER The Dallas Morning News
Luis de la Garza, 59, appeared in federal court Friday in connection with the armed robbery of a Wells Fargo bank in April. Authorities believe he has robbed at least 18 other banks in nine area cities.
De la Garza, who is in federal custody, could not be reached for comment, but his wife, Blanca Estrada, confirmed he had been charged. She said the allegations were a “shock and a surprise.”
“I have no idea where he is, and I am trying to locate him,” she said. “I have no answers, either.”
Authorities say the series of robberies committed by a man wearing a dark mesh mask began with the Dec. 31 holdup at a BBVA Compass branch on West Northwest Highway near Bachman Lake.
A break in the investigation came with the April 22 robbery of a Wells Fargo bank branch on Josey Lane in Farmers Branch.
In that robbery, a witness saw a man walk by a window and head toward the bank’s entrance.
As the man entered, he covered his face with a mask, pointed a handgun at tellers and demanded money. He removed the mask as he left the bank.
The witness who saw the man without his mask before and after the robbery helped authorities with a sketch that the FBI circulated in May. A $20,000 reward was offered in connection with the man’s capture after he was suspected of robbing banks in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin counties.
The witness at the Wells Fargo bank later identified de la Garza in a lineup, officials said.
In recent years, de la Garza has faced various legal problems.
In 2005, he pleaded guilty to failing to file a corporate tax return and was placed on four years of probation, according to court records. He was also ordered to pay about $72,000 to the IRS.
In October, de la Garza was accused of taking items valued at $285 from a Wal-Mart on Cockrell Hill Road in Dallas, according to police records. A store security officer reported seeing him on closed-circuit TV selecting items and putting them in a shopping cart. He grabbed shopping bags from an unattended register, bagged the items and left the store, the records state. The shoplifting case is pending.
De la Garza, a Mexican immigrant, spoke out about immigration policies, including those in Farmers Branch, where he has lived for at least a decade.
He was credited with developing a low-power Spanish-language television station, TeleAmerica, in the 1990s and had served on a prominent advisory committee of about 100 immigrants to the Mexican government’s Foreign Relations Ministry.
While he was on probation in the tax evasion case, de la Garza requested permission to travel to Mexico City in 2006 because he had received an invitation to attend inauguration events for then President-elect Felipe Calderón.
The court records included a copy of the invitation. It appears he received permission to take the trip.
Juan Hernandez, an immigrant adviser to former Mexican President Vicente Fox, said he was surprised by the allegations against de la Garza.
“Luis has always been very likable, friendly and someone who worked hard for the immigrant community,” he said.
His wife said she was also at a loss to explain de la Garza’s arrest.
“I don’t know what went through his mind. …We are hardworking people. We always did things the right way. We preached on it. I don’t know what happened,” Estrada said, sobbing.
Staff writers Robert Wilonsky and Alfredo Corchado contributed to this report.