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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 5, 2006

Fingerprints undo suspect's disguises

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Authorities say one person has committed at least nine bank robberies on O'ahu. The robber has worn a number of disguises, including a wig and floral dress, a military uniform and an aloha shirt and dark glasses. Police yesterday charged a 40-year-old man in connection with three of the robberies.

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ROBBER IN DISGUISE

Honolulu police said they have linked robbery suspect Michael Rosario to these heists and are looking at others.

Oct. 24, 2005, American Savings Bank, 'Aiea

Dec. 22, 2005, Central Pacific Bank, Royal Kunia

June 6, 2006, Central Pacific Bank, Kane'ohe

June 19, Hawai'i State Federal Credit Union, Pearlridge

June 29, Central Pacific Bank, Wahiawa

June 29, Hickam Federal Credit Union, Pearlridge

July 14, Hickam Federal Credit Union, Kapolei

Aug. 25, Hickam Federal Credit Union, Pearlridge

Sept. 22, Central Pacific Bank, Ke'eaumoku

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Michael Rosario Sr.

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Armed with fingerprints lifted from a note demanding money from a teller, investigators in the last two weeks closed in on a 40-year-old father of three they say is linked to as many as 15 bank robberies in the past year.

Yesterday, Honolulu police officers arrested Michael Rosario Sr. without incident, the culmination of a case built on forensic evidence that eventually led to a tip from his employer.

Police said their suspect known for masquerading as a woman, a wounded soldier and a hospital worker stayed true to form even up to his arrest. Rosario was wearing a white chef's apron when he was picked up on Sand Island after his boss told police he was coming to get a paycheck, police said.

When he was brought to downtown police headquarters, Rosario told KITV-4 he thought he'd get away with the robberies "'cause I had good disguises."

Asked what drove him to commit the robberies, Rosario said "Robin Hood syndrome," possibly alluding to the fictional character's code of stealing from the rich to give to the poor. However, there is no indication any of the money taken in the heists went to charity.

Rosario, a Brooklyn native and Air Force veteran who moved to Waipahu in 1993, told arresting officers his crime spree was spurred by a need for money and he thought he would "get away" with the heists because of the disguises he used, police said.

Rosario has a wife, three children and a girlfriend on the island that he claims to support, police said.

Officers with the Honolulu Police Department District 3 and District 5 crime reduction units, backed by robbery detectives, found Rosario walking to Pacific Diversified Finishing, a boat repair shop, at 9:30 a.m. yesterday. He was arrested without incident.

"There have been several guys who hit six (banks), maybe eight, but he's the most prolific (bank robber) in recent times," said assistant U.S. attorney Ron Johnson, who heads the office's major crimes section.

"There have been innovative techniques used but eventually we've been able to identify and prosecute these individuals thanks to our excellent working relationship with HPD's robbery detail."

ELABORATE DISGUISES

Rosario has been charged with three of the 15 robberies in which he is suspected. In a few, but not all of the robberies, the robber tore off parts of his disguise as he fled, police said. The robber also used a gun, a pocket knife and a stun gun in some of the holdups.

Rosario has allegedly masqueraded as a woman, a construction worker, a security guard, a wounded Army officer and a nurse.

The elaborate disguises, which included makeup, wigs, fake breasts and fake facial hair, led police and federal agents to label him the "village person" and the "YMCA bandit."

"This is the third case (this year) I've prosecuted where the guy has dressed up like a woman," said assistant U.S. attorney Loretta Sheehan, who is handling the case for the government.

For the year he was on the loose, police were unable to get a specific description of Rosario or a picture of him from bank surveillance cameras because of the disguises.

It was evidence recovered from a Sept. 22 robbery that led law enforcement officers to him.

That day, Rosario allegedly donned a dark dress with a flower print, a blond wig and fake breasts, walked into the Ke'eaumoku Street branch of Central Pacific Bank and slipped a note to a teller demanding money, according to court documents.

After the robber fled the scene, officers recovered an envelope, the demand note and the costume. The items were sent to the department's crime lab, where fingerprints were lifted from the demand note.

On Sept. 28, police ran the fingerprints taken from the note through several criminal databases and found a match with Rosario, who is on probation for terroristic threatening and abusing a household member, according to court documents.

The next day, police detectives put together a photo lineup including Rosario's picture and showed it to bank employees at CPB's Waipahu branch and Hickam FCU's Kapolei branch. Employees at both branches picked Rosario out.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

A federal arrest warrant was issued Monday, police put out a public plea Tuesday and Rosario was arrested yesterday.

Shortly before 9 a.m. yesterday, Rosario called the owner of Pacific Diversified Finishing, where he has worked for four years, and told him he was coming in to pick up his paycheck, police said.

The owner called police, and officers were able to pick him up before he got to work, police said.

"We'd like to thank the public," said police Capt. Frank Fujii. "That's what's unique about Hawai'i when we ask for help, we always get the support from the community."

Police and federal investigators are still working to link Rosario to a dozen bank robberies not listed in the federal criminal complaint.

Rosario has been charged with three heists, the earliest occurring at a Waipahu branch of Central Pacific Bank on Dec. 22, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

In that case, it is alleged that Rosario, dressed as a construction worker complete with hardhat and orange vest, slipped the teller a note that read, "This is a stickup, you have 10 seconds to give me money. I have nothing to lose. Don't try me. Act normal, smile," according to court documents.

Rosario also was charged with the July 14 heist at the Hickam Federal Credit Union in Kapolei and the Sept. 22 Central Pacific Bank heist on Ke'eaumoku.

A first conviction for bank robbery carries a possible sentence of 18 months in federal prison if no weapon is used, and up to seven years in prison if a firearm is involved.

Rosario was given five years probation last year for terroristic threatening and abusing his wife. He pleaded no contest to the charges in October.

ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE

According to a police affidavit filed in court, Rosario threatened his wife with a knife and told her he was going to make her a "blood sacrifice" for his father, Satan. She declined comment when reached by phone yesterday.

Monique Rosario, 38, also said her husband lit a corn husk doll on fire and stabbed it into the front door of their Waipahu residence in late May, the document said. In addition, she showed police a picture that she said had her face cut out by her husband.

William Domingo, who represented Rosario, said although his former client did not contest the criminal charges and he was angry at his wife, Michael Rosario denied most of what Monique Rosario alleged to the police. Domingo said she may have been "embellishing."

Jeen Kwak, the city deputy prosecutor who handled the case, said there's no way to verify the allegations because Michael Rosario pleaded no contest to the two counts and agreed there was a basis to the charges that he threatened and abused his wife.

Monique Rosario sought a restraining order against her husband about two weeks after the threats at the apartment.

She said her husband slapped, punched and pushed her and threatened to kill her. She also said he smashed their computer with a bat, gouged out her face from pictures and put knives through her dolls.

On June 23 last year, she was granted a two-year protective order prohibiting him from contacting her, except that he had visitation rights to their three sons, ages 3 to 13. But two days after the order was issued, Michael Rosario allegedly violated the protective order, according to court files. His $500 bail was posted by the wife, who eventually got the money back, court papers said. On Nov. 7, he was placed on two years' probation for violating the order.

'A VERY CARING FATHER'

Attorney Domingo said he was surprised when he learned of the robbery allegations against his former client.

"To me, he was a very caring father," Domingo said. "His concerns were mainly about his three children."

Domingo described Michael Rosario as a soft-spoken "regular guy" who may have made "poor decisions" regarding his wife.

"It seemed he was going to do well on probation," Domingo said.

Staff writer Ken Kobayashi contributed to this report.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.