Police suspect L.A. gunmen in 2 other heists

  Jonathan T. Lovitt ; Gale Holland


  USA Today


  Page 02A

  (Copyright 1997)


  LOS ANGELES -- Two masked gunmen who died in a televised firefight with

  police had a history of weapons charges and may have robbed two banks of $1.5

  million last May.


  Police did not confirm their identities, but relatives and news reports said the

  gunmen were Emil Matasareanu and Larry Phillips, both of Altadena, 12 miles

  west of Los Angeles.


  Matasareanu's mother said he told her a week ago that he was devastated by a

  recent separation from his wife and child and a failed computer business. ``He

  said, `Mama, I want to die,' '' Valerie Nicolescu said.


  The gunmen held off police with assault weapons and armor-piercing bullets for

  more than 30 minutes Friday after a botched robbery at a Bank of America

  branch in North Hollywood. The two men, clad in full-length body armor, were

  killed by shots to the head.


  Matasareanu, 30, grew up in Altadena and in Romania. He and his mother ran a

  home for the mentally disabled until authorities shut it down in 1994.


  A few years ago, he went to Romania to get married and returned with his wife.

  She left with their son six months ago, Matasareanu's mother said.


  Phillips and Matasareanu were arrested on conspiracy and weapons charges in

  1993 after Glendale police found an arsenal in their car during a routine traffic

  stop. Police say they found four semiautomatic handguns, two AK-47 assault

  rifles, 3,000 rounds of ammunition, bullet-proof vests, smoke grenades, police

  scanners and disguises.


  The men struck a plea bargain for lesser charges and were out of county jail in

  less than four months.


  The two are suspected in two bank robberies last May. Two men armed with

  AK-47s and wearing thick clothing and ski masks robbed two other Bank of

  America branches in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of $1.5 million, the FBI

  says. The robberies bore tactical similarities to the Friday heist, and the FBI now

  believes that the gunmen were the same.


  Walter Kennedy, a retired postal worker who lives three doors away from

  Matasareanu's family, said he once had an argument with Matasareanu about

  Kennedy's unleashed dog. And he once saw Matasareanu working on a gun in

  front of the house.


  But he knew the family only slightly and thought of Matasareanu as ``a pretty

  good guy.''