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CENTRAL TEXAS

Ten years and 23 bank robberies later, police say they've got their man

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CENTRAL TEXAS - A string of bank robberies that lasted more than 10 years may be over after the capture of a Ft. Worth man suspected of holding up at least 23 banks and eluding authorities while spending at least a million dollars of other people's money.

Jesse Gamboa, 51, was arrested February 4 in Williamson County after some high-tech investigative work and an online bait that worked.

Sheriff's investigators and the FBI believe Gamboa is the so-called ZZ Top or Interstate Bandit.  He earned one name because of the disguise he used during bank heists, and the other because of the banks he targeted on or near I-35 stretching from San Marcos to near Dallas-Ft. Worth.  Staying close to the highway allowed him easy access to make a quick getaway.

The FBI had been looking for him since the First State Bank of Georgetown was held up January 2, 2004.  Since then he had a long string of successes robbing banks, including ones in Troy, Round Rock, New Braunfels, Valley View, Elm Mott, Little River Academy, Salado and Marquez.  

Many of the banks were small, and he would scope them out for a week before making his move.  Once inside, he would show a gun, tell the clerk to fill up a bag with cash, then often herd all the employees into the vault.  He'd then take more money, threaten the employees to not move, and then flee in a rental car with stolen license plates.

In almost every case, from start to finish would take no more than three minutes.  And usually his disguise included a gray beard and wig, sunglasses, jeans and tennis shoes.  Only the shirt and cap would change.

In 2008, FBI Violent Crime Task Force member Fred Rhea told us investigators were "seeing a pattern of about every three months (between robberies), but one time when he got $300,000 it took him six months to spend it."

Gamboa had an expensive lifestyle, according to Williamson County Sheriff's Office Detective Rick De Le Vega.  He told Austin's Fox 7 Gamboa spent the money he took on "football games, playoff games, travel and prostitutes."

For this guy, crime did pay, until last fall when authorities got a break.

On Halloween, a man robbed the Schwertner State Bank northeast of Georgetown wearing a straw hat and a mask.  He pointed a handgun at employees and made off with more than $100,000.

Court papers say the FBI set up a fake website, www.schwertnerbankrobbery.org and then watched who searched that site.   An IP address came back identifying Gamboa, and a cell phone number.  Police tracked that and it led them from his home in Ft. Worth through Hillsboro to Temple and then on to the front door of that Schwertner bank the day it was robbed.

More than a hundred thousand dollars in cash was found in a storage unit he rented, and investigators say the serial numbers on the money matches the stolen funds from that bank.   Police also found a handgun used in the robbery.

Gamboa was arrested February 4 and now faces four counts of aggravated robbery, with his bond set at $1 million.  Authorities say he's robbed his last bank.

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