tv 2020 ABC October 10, 2014 10:01pm-11:01pm PDT
tonight, on an all-new "20/20." designing women. she planned a hit. she planned a heist. and she hooked up with her students. first, the fiancee with a funny way to say i do. hiring a hitman to do in her man. >> did it ever occur to you that this isn't normal? >> love you to death. and the bank teller forced to strap on a bomb to rob her own
bank. but is she the pawn or the queen? how the plan exploded in her face. bombing out. plus, just sentenced to a lot more than detention. a teacher with a marriage on the rocks. but an afterschool special in full swing. arrested for seducing students three different times. tonight, meet the new designing women. >> it sounds crazy. here's david muir. >> tonight, a different way of looking at crime. we know that men are more common perpetrators. but three unlikely culprits. the first, planning the murder
of her fiancee. debra roberts with a prison interview. she's saying it wasn't the plan, but do you believe her? >> you really wanna do this? really? >> yeah. >> you sure? >> yeah. >> reporter: jessica strom is planning to give her beloved fiancé, john, a special present -- a bullet in the head. >> you can just do it, walk directly in and walk and blow his brains out. you just close the door, open the door. no time to respond. that's it. >> reporter: don't be fooled by the flirtatious laughter. this meeting is dead serious. >> so, i said, "[ bleep ] it. he can have a taste of his own medicine for once." >> reporter: she's talking about the man who has supposedly stolen her heart, john schellpfeffer. a former district attorney and now successful lawyer in the quaint town of wasuau, wisconsin. a doting father of three children, john was divorced and looking for a second chance at love when he walked into this bar.
>> she was a young, vibrant, beautiful, all made up behind the bar and we just clicked. >> reporter: nearly 20 years younger, the beautiful bartender was going through her own divorce while raising two children and studying, of all things, criminology. >> we started talking and chatting and she said, "i never give my number out, but i'm going to give it to you." >> reporter: love was in the air and within weeks the may-december romance was flourishing. did you see her as someone you wanted to marry? >> oh, yeah. and i can remember her saying, um, "well, you better not be leading me down the wrong path because when i fall, i fall hard and i'm falling for you." >> reporter: and that feeling was mutual. >> when you find that one person who for some unexplained reason, that's your person. >> reporter: the betrayal's still so raw, scars from a relationship that ran hot and cold. >> when it was good, it was
really good. and when it was bad, it was bad. >> reporter: the good times included romantic nights, even a trip to disney world for the blended family. the bad times -- the kind stuff you see on reruns of "cops." >> she doesn't have an off switch. like, she won't stop. >> there was some jealousy and some control issues. >> on whose part? >> on, on his part. >> reporter: but john says the problems started with jessica's volatile temper. >> how abusive was she? >> if you can think it, she's probably done it to me. stomping on my foot with a high heeled spiked shoe, punches to the face. >> reporter: he says her weapon of choice was a restraining order. she filed several after heated arguments. jessica owns up to some of those vicious fights. >> i did stab the sofa in the house. i grabbed a knife and i said to him, i said, "if you do not give me my car keys and let me leave, i'm gonna slice this couch."
and i did a slice and then he screamed, he threw my keys at me and i said, "thank you." >> reporter: and yet, despite all the drama, the relationship endured. jessica even moved in with her kids. john, you're a lawyer. you've worked in areas of domestic abuse. why didn't you just quit this relationship? >> because i loved her. >> we have such a strong bond of love, as -- as crazy as that sounds, that we would continue to stay together. you know, it was pure. >> reporter: pure, maybe. bizarre, definitely. after yet another restraining order hearing, a smitten john actually popped the question to jessica in front of the judge. >> he proposed to me on his knee at a court hearing. >> reporter: in a court hearing? >> yeah, a restraining order i had filed. and -- >> you had, you -- you had filed a restraining order against him? >> yes. >> did it never occur to you that this isn't normal?
>> i went with my feelings, you know. and he was always there for me. >> reporter: the start and stop love affair went on for six years until this past winter when jessica decided she'd rather plan john's funeral than a wedding. her chosen hitman -- a former classmate from, get this, a criminal justice class she'd taken. after initially turning jessica down flat, the man we'll call alex goes to police. enter wausau detective, jennifer holz, who took us back to where that first conversation went down. >> they sat here and she sprang it on him -- "would you kill somebody?" >> right. "would you ever consider killing someone?" and he said, "no." >> was he completely blown away by the proposition? >> i think he was, yeah. 'cause of course, um, he had gone through criminal justice courses with her. >> reporter: but police needed proof that it was a serious murder-for-hire plan.
>> we had him call her, and he said, "hey, i wanted to talk to you about last night." >> well, i just wanted to talk about what we talked about yesterday. >> oh, no. >> that's okay. i figured you wouldn't want to. >> this was something she didn't want to discuss on the phone. that was a red flag to us that it was -- this is real. >> a serious threat. >> right. >> reporter: on the call, the two make a plan to meet later that night at this diner in downtown wausau to discuss the plot face to face. so, this is where they came for the sting. >> correct. >> reporter: and where did they sit? >> and we have them set up in a booth right here. >> reporter: that's detective holz on the video angling the secret recording device just so. minutes before jessica arrives. >> so, how's it going? >> cold. >> i know. >> really cold. >> reporter: after some small
talk about wisconsin's winter weather, it's down to the murderous business at hand. >> okay. well, i'm listening. >> i don't know if you're willing to pay the amount of money that i want to do this. >> probably not, because i probably don't have that amount. >> probably not. >> if you say like $50,000, i don't even have that. >> could you do 25? >> no. wow. if you could do it for a thousand. >> for -- for how much? >> a thousand. >> a thousand? >> and some sex. >> she offered up $1,000 and she leaned into him flirtatiously and then also offered sex. >> could she really have been serious? >> i think in her mind that she thought that a thousand dollars and, and sex was gonna be good enough for him. >> reporter: happily detailing how to get the job done. >> during the day --
>> yup. >> we could book an appointment with him. he will expect you or whoever you are. >> uh-huh. >> or whatever name you say you are. >> oh, that's a good idea, yeah. >> and then you're in. >> just like that. >> so, i will draw you the picture. >> reporter: she's giddy, singing while drawing a map. >> the door to go in here is here. this is his home office right here, directly connected to the garage. and while he's sitting there, then you can just do it. >> we told him give her an out. in fact, he asked her that several times, "are you serious? are you sure about this?" and he even asked her, you know, "if you are in a bad relationship, why don't you just leave?" >> i keep thinking, you could just walk away from this, though. >> i won't be satisfied. i won't be satisfied. i won't quit. that is true love. >> reporter: one twisted brand of true love. when we return, jessica has some explaining to do. >> you can't say anything without being completely taken
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jessica strom has just sealed a deadly deal offering a 24-year-old former classmate a thousand dollars and the promise of sex to kill to her fiancé john schelpfeffer. >> sounds so easy. >> is that on? >> no. >> is anything on you recording? >> i have nothing on me. >> okay. >> reporter: and she's thought of everything, including what she'll do after the hit job if suspicion turns to her. >> so when they go looking for someone who did this, they're gonna be looking directly at you. >> oh, yeah. >> i mean, what are you gonna say? just -- >> that's yeah! >> reporter: is she for real? >> was there any doubt in your full-fledged plot to kill her fiancé? >> we watched it at our office, and we were all just completely floored by the context of the conversation and her demeanor. >> reporter: detective
jennifer holz had seen enough and confronted jessica at her house with her kids asleep upstairs. >> when the police showed up at your home, what did you make of that? >> i was half-asleep on my couch, and i had no idea they were there for that at all. >> it's 11:15 pm. >> i have no makeup on. >> does she think she was in trouble, when you showed up? >> initially, i don't believe so. i don't think it occurred to her that we had taped the entire conversation between her and alex. >> i've been with john for seven years and he's done things to me and i've done things to him too, but it's not like we want to literally kill each other. >> well, you seem like a very smart girl, woman. smart enough to realize your entire conversation was recorded. >> mm-hmm. >> and what you're telling me is not true. >> and when you learned that the conversation had been recorded? >> then it came back to me, that oh, okay, this makes sense why they're here. but at the same time, it wasn't real that it was happening. >> reporter: jessica tells
investigators she thought the meeting with alex was about something much more mundane than murder. saying she was hoping her tech savvy former classmate could help her sort out wi-fi problems. >> i asked him, you know, "can you help me with this internet?" and he's like, "oh, sure." >> how did the idea of killing john even come into the conversation? >> he was frustrating me that, earlier that week. i do know that i said something like, "well, you could kill him if you wanted to." >> but i've seen the tape, and nowhere on there do you talk about the internet. >> it was all talked about before, and that's what i had believed that's why i was meeting him for. >> so you're saying this was all a big misunderstanding? >> yes. yes. >> even though you offered money to someone, gave your fiancé's schedule, drew a map of his house -- >> yeah. he knew it wasn't serious. >> certainly you are not joking when you begin to draw maps and make comments about how now your fingerprints are on this map. >> never. i loved that man, and i still do.
and i would not kill him. no. >> but yet you're asking this guy to do it. >> i know it sounds so bad. >> what did you think about the idea that she wanted to have you killed? >> at first i didn't believe it. i thought like it was a joke. and then my body started to shake. >> reporter: after he calmed down, john watched this video of his soul mate plotting to end his life. >> it would take three minutes! >> what are you feeling when you look at that tape of yourself? >> i feel taken advantage of. >> you feel taken advantage of? >> i feel taken advantage of. >> even though you're the one who's leading him -- >> he actually led me to the conclusion of it all. he's carrying on the conversation. i'm just kind of nonchalantly laughing and singing. ♪ >> but to even come up with a price -- a thousand dollars, plus sex. >> yeah, that's nuts. >> to kill the man that you love? >> that's nuts. that's crazy and you know, unfortunately i'm sitting here as a product of that.
>> reporter: here, meaning the marathon county jail where jessica has been collecting her thoughts since that night police came knocking. scared and alone behind bars, she reached out to the one person she knew would answer. >> i called john first. he was my first call. honey? >> why are you in jail? >> i'm in here because i said to somebody that i wanted to kill you, but i said it as a total joke. i don't know if you can do anything. >> i don't know that it's in my place to help you. >> okay, what can you recommend that i can do, honey? >> i am not getting involved. i'm staying out of it. you need to call your attorney. >> reporter: but these days john has had a change of heart. >> the next day she calls and says "you need to help me this isn't real." you know, and 6, 7 months later, i come to the conclusion that is the truth. >> so you don't think she intended to have you killed? >> no. >> reporter: though he may not believe his life was ever on the line, a judge did. >> this is a serious crime.
>> reporter: and last month jessica accepted a plea deal for solicitation to commit first degree intentional homicide. that will keep her in prison for at least three and a half years. at her sentencing hearing, she blamed -- who else? -- but john. >> i was doing what i was always doing, trying to please john. john physically abused -- i'm afraid he will not leave me alone. >> do you wish you hadn't planned john's murder? >> i didn't plan. i did not plan it at all. never. i shouldn't have said those things. >> reporter: but after all the sex, lies, and that videotape, after all the thousand reasons why this affair should have ended long ago, the two ill-fated lovers still feel that spark. do you still love john? >> very much. very, very much with my whole heart. >> i do love jessica to this day. >> still? >> to this day. >> in spite of everything? >> because i attribute her negative behaviors to mental illness. >> do you still want to be with
her in the future? >> i would say yeah. >> reporter: and believe it or not, jessica is also leaving that door open. and when you leave prison, will that relationship ever resume again? >> probably not. >> reporter: probably not? >> yeah. >> reporter: oh, that crazy thing called love. >> if you love someone in your heart, you know, how can you make those feelings go away? >> so, do you believe this was all a joke? use #abc2020 on twitter. when we continue, a teacher admitting to affairs on camera. next, the married teacher with designs on students. >> how did it go from four to more?
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now to the case making headlines. the teacher -- debra roberts with the former teacher with her own explanation tonight. >> reporter: lauren cooper is a school teacher heading straight to detention. a long detention -- at least nine months in jail. how did this fresh-faced educator end up here? you might call it a case of forbidden love but in this instance there are multiple romeos. >> accused of child sex charges. >> sent racy text messages. >> allegedly flirting in the hallways, leading to sex. >> reporter: the tawdry tale for this 31-year-old english teacher began in plymouth, pennsylvania, a small industrial community nestled between the pocono mountains and the susquehanna river.
>> mrs. cooper, as she was known by her students at wyoming valley west high school, was the picture of success. good job, good looks and a good husband -- longtime sweetheart raphael, also a school teacher. >> i was attracted to her early on, uh -- when i was young, but she wasn't about me. >> reporter: the couple first met as children at dance class, then reunited years later after graduating college and found they still danced a perfect waltz together. would you say you were madly in love? >> we never, you know, spent an hour away from each other. it was always dance. it was fun times. nice. >> reporter: they soon married and eventually realized a big dream -- opening a dance studio to indulge their passion. . >> quick, quick, slow, slow. >> reporter: but their new side business began taking a heavy toll. >> it turned into more of a business relationship than a marriage.
>> reporter: so, the romance was waning? >> with us deteriorating in our marriage, and having less and less of a relationship, i didn't feel attractive. i didn't feel wanted. i didn't feel needed. >> reporter: unfulfilled, mrs. cooper's eyes began to wander around the school, eventually catching the attention of an 18-year-old senior athlete. how did it go from just hello to more? >> he was very, um, very -- convincing. in terms of making me feel good about myself. >> what did he say? >> remarks about my appearance. >> you're hot? >> yeah. >> you're pretty? >> yeah, both of those things, yes. >> reporter: like a typical teen, the boy professed his adoration publically. posting on twitter -- "mrs. cooper looks good." but privately, the flirty messages between the couple go further. >> he was bothering me to pick him up. let's go -- let's go for a drive. you know? and um, for a long time i said no, no, no.
>> reporter: cooper eventually gives in, meeting the teen student near his home in her car where they have sex. detective chaz balogh later investigated the case. >> we're at the dana street elementary school, which is one of the locations that harrington-cooper brought victim number one to have a sexual relationship with. there's another one where they were in a church parking lot. >> reporter: the boy would later admit to at least three sexual encounters with mrs. cooper. >> it wasn't just a physical connection. >> what is it that an 18-year-old could -- could do for you besides the physical? >> as crazy as this might sound to some people, he's very intelligent. i could have real conversations with him about real life issues. >> but it didn't somehow occur to you, this is wrong. this is a kid. >> it did.
but it was hard to, uh, break away from it. >> reporter: but that bond would be short-lived as the whirlwind six day romance came to screeching halt when the boy's parents found sexually explicit messages between him and the teacher. >> the stepmother was a wreck, absolute wreck. >> reporter: school officer gina kotowski questioned the married teacher. >> she told us everything that happened. she had had intercourse with him. her demeanor was shocking to me. it was matter-of-fact. she couldn't believe that she was there. she didn't realize she did anything wrong. >> reporter: when you were found out, what went through your mind? >> i thought, okay. i'm losing my job. it didn't hit me how big of a deal it was until i went to be fingerprinted and -- and mug shot and everything at the police station and all of the cameras were there. >> reporter: lauren cooper was caught in pennsyvlania teacher-student relations is a felony. hours later she was released on bail. but the next month --
>> charged with having sex with a 17-year-old student. >> another victim who had picked her up, they made out and had some inappropriate touching. >> reporter: this time accused of having sexual contact with an underage student just 17 years old. >> there was another student? >> allegedly. >> the reports that there was another boy that you had sex with? >> not true. the initial boy was getting a lot of attention and some other people wanted to be cool as well, so i think it was like a bandwagoning type thing. >> reporter: but police point to this text as proof of that there was another relationship, with mrs. cooper writing -- "what 17-year-old doesn't want to have sex with his 31-year-old teacher?" >> my impression is that, from talking to the victim and harrington-cooper, was that she was strictly just looking for affection. she was very aggressive, very straight to the point. >> reporter: when police learned of that encounter, cooper was once again arrested and once again marched in front of those tv cameras.
>> lauren, are there any other students? >> reporter: shame, guilt, embarrassment? >> all of that. and the hits just kept coming. >> reporter: they certainly did. incredibly, just three weeks later, it's déjà vu. >> facing charges for having sexual contact. >> reporter: more boys, more accusations, more criminal charges. and while the english teacher's demeanor has gone from scared to defiant, her husband raphael is just dumbfounded. when you heard that she had betrayed you with teenage boys, how do you respond to that? >> it was rough, you know, getting up every morning trying to even go to school and teach. and then i'm finding out, you know, in the middle of the day that, you know, my wife's being arrested again on another allegation. >> reporter: this third arrest involved two students -- one 16, another 17, who claim she flashed her tattooed breast at them. but according to police, some of her actions were even more
brazen, downright predatory, some might say. >> she not only was victimizing the students, she's using other students to hook her up with someone that she finds attractive or "hot," as she would refer to it. this is a location where one of the victims was dropped off by another student to meet harrington-cooper. >> a predator, a deviant, a pedophile, whatever it may be. lauren's not that. lauren is a really, really troubled emotional person who had an insatiable need for attention. >> reporter: it's a problem she says she's working out with her husband. in the months since her arrest, the couple has turned to church and a spiritual rebirth which they say is helping them heal. you will stay in this marriage? >> absolutely. i don't want anybody else. i don't want to go anywhere else. i've had too many years built up with her, and too many good memories. >> reporter: how do you explain raphael's devotion in light of all of this? >> there are no words for it. i mean, he's absolutely remarkable.
i wish we never got away from the marriage part. >> reporter: moments after our interview, a tearful good-bye for the couple as lauren headed off to court. >> the defendant had entered a guilty plea to three separate cases involving four separate victims. >> reporter: guilty of four charges including felony sexual contact with that 17-year-old, the one she told me only minutes earlier didn't happen. >> she received a sentence of nine to twenty-three months plus five years consecutive probation. >> reporter: the former teacher now enduring a painful lesson. she'll also have to register as a sex offender for 25 years. >> there are parents out there who would say that, you know, you've preyed on kids. >> uh-huh. >> what would you say to those parents? >> i did do wrong, but i'm not a monster. i am human. and like every other human, i made mistakes.
mine just happens to be in the public eye. >> her husband, sticking by her side. what do you make us? tweet us, using #abc2020. and next, what was she carrying into that bank? >> next, a walking time bomb. literally. forced to rob a bank. tnt about to blow with every step. but the real bomb shell is the story behind it. when designing women returns. did you say something, paul? huh? no. can i route our trip? i love our trips. oh, me too. but no i'm good i know where i'm headed. how about music? nah i don't really feel like- ♪ just the two of us ♪ we can make it if we--
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caught on tape. but who really designed this plan? >> reporter: the sun's coming up over east los angeles and a bank heist is going down. >> breaking news out of east los angeles -- a kidnapping and robbery at a bank of america. >> reporter: a longtime bank employee has been kidnapped, strapped with a bomb, and forced into robbing her own bank. >> 911. >> i have something strapped to me! can you hurry? i'm so scared. >> we're coming, honey. >> i don't want to blow up. >> reporter: alerted, the l.a. bomb squad rolls out of its headquarters and heads to the bank on south atlantic boulevard. >> this would be the highest threat level, because there's a person whose life is directly in danger. >> reporter: bomb squad veterans joseph acevedo and rob harris. >> the entire street is shut down from one end to the other. there's helicopters, there's police cars, people were pushed way back.
>> reporter: local reporter rob hayes is covering the heist for kabc. >> we're shooting from far. we had the chopper up and we're just kind of waiting for this thing to play out. >> we have an innocent victim, that life's in danger. our number one priority is to get to that person. >> reporter: the victim is aurora barrera, an assistant manager for the bank and an l.a. native. at 8:20, with the bank still closed, surveillance cameras inside and out show barrera carefully following the kidnapper's instructions. enlisting the help of the only other employee in the bank as she empties the vault and tosses two bags with a half million dollars out the side door. at the very moment aurora is dropping the bags out this bank door, a getaway car is pulling up on this side street. the robbers have timed this perfectly. we know that, because one of the robbers spoke exclusively with "20/20." >> it was, like, one of those
moments where you have no control over your body. you're just in shock. there was just, like, money everywhere. >> reporter: brian perez has been recruited into the heist by his friend richard menchacca, who drove the first getaway car. perez says the money is now transferred to his car to keep police off their trail. the handoff takes place at this car wash right around the corner from the bank. >> so he opened my door and he pretty much threw all the money in the back of the car. >> you're sitting in a car wash, looking in the back seat with -- >> with over half a million dollars -- >> yeah. and he closes it up? >> yeah. >> and then what? >> he tells me to go. he slapped the car, like, "get outta here." >> reporter: back at the bank the bomb squad begins the delicate but dangerous work of removing the bomb from aurora barrera's body. >> she was sitting in the chair at the desk saying, "please, please, please, i don't wanna die, i don't wanna die." >> we saw a black, cylinder object below her rib cage.
and then we could see a cable. and some electrical tape. that is how it was connected to her body. >> reporter: after calming barrera, the device is gently removed from her. that's her finally walking free from the bomb and the bank. now the device is isolated and destroyed with the help of the squad's robot. >> i went back down with the bomb suit and i got down and pulled all the pieces apart and saw that there was no high explosives, there was no circuitry. it was not a bomb. >> reporter: detective harris signals code four, meaning all is safe. the device is a fake, but an effective one. the robbers have made away with over $500,000 without ever having stepped into the bank. where did the money go? >> that's a great question. >> reporter: fbi special agent nicole black and huntington park detective joe settles are the first to interview aurora after
the heist. >> she was emotional during the interview. >> she would go into trying to describe the events, how scared she was at the time. >> i took a shower and -- >> reporter: slowly, the single 32 year old woman recounts her early morning abduction. >> she got up in the morning, got ready for work. she went out to her garage, as normal. and when she opened the garage she was accosted by two black males. >> they told me that they've been following me. that they knew where i worked and that i better do everything that they tell me to do. >> held at gunpoint and forced to tape a -- some sort of device on her stomach. >> he told me to strap it to myself. he gave me the tape, and he made me put it around my waist and it had some wires. i just saw wires and i got scared. they gave me a back pack and they told me to stuff it with the money and to throw it through the side door. if i didn't do what they told me to do, that i was gonna get hurt really bad. >> reporter: as night falls, the
search for barrera's kidnappers and bank robbers goes on. >> authorities are following leads attempting to track down those two suspects who apparently -- >> i know they were african-american, or black. all i could see was part of this right here. and the way they talk, they spoke. >> reporter: but her memory is vague and police begin privately questioning whether she was the pawn in this high-stakes game, or the queen. stay with us, because this bank heist is about turn into a bonnie and clyde whodunit. all day, every day, visiting with dentists, getting an understanding of what they're looking for. somebody who has sensitivity, they want relief from their sensitivity pain, but they also want the other things that are available in toothpaste. new sensodyne complete protection is designed specifically for sensitivity sufferers, but then, on the other side of the coin, it's also delivering on the other attributes that patients want out of a sensitivity toothpaste, delivering a complete package.
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aurora barerra -- >> there was two men inside my garage and they threatened me with a gun and they strapped me -- >> reporter: -- she had a bomb strapped to her. that's her walking through the bank with the device under her shirt. two mysterious robbers had kidnapped her and had forced her into looting more than a half million bucks from her own bank. >> forced to open the vault, throwing bags of cash out the back door. >> reporter: in addition to swarming media coverage, local detectives, prosecutors and now the fbi are all involved in this bizarre case. >> bank robbery. bomb. kidnapping. you got a trifecta there, right? >> reporter: but you can bet the story's just starting when the cops begin pressing barrera. looking for answers, they find only questions and doubts. >> i want you to make sure that you're thinking of all your senses. >> reporter: red flag number one, barerra's demeanor on bank surveillance. >> at times she buttons her jacket or kind of tries to potentially hold the device up as if it may be falling off. >> a reasonable person that
would think they had a device strapped on them that was gonna blow up. >> you'd think she'd be on eggshells the entire time. >> right, and she wasn't. >> reporter: red flag number two, barrera's long on dramatics, short on details. >> what did you hear? what did you see? what did you smell? she couldn't answer those questions for critical points in the timeline. >> it was like pulling teeth. one of the things that we noticed right away was that she had a tough time calling the device a bomb. >> she was very reluctant to say anything more than "that thing." >> the other guy gave me the -- the pole thing. he's the one that had that thing. he was holding the thing. >> reporter: and the bomb, as we know, turned out to be a hoax, leading to red flag number three. >> okay, so you're kind of holding it -- >> yeah. >> -- in place with your right arm and then -- >> i'm just putting some straps of tape there. >> reporter: barrera says the electrical tape used to attach the device was torn with her own hands. >> the tape stretches when you try to tear it. usually you need scissors to cut that sort of tape, which would
create clean edges. and that seems to be the case in these photographs. and it would be very difficult to hold a device, pull the shirt up, tear or cut tape while being held at gunpoint. >> reporter: and finally, red flag number four. >> we stuffed the bag with mostly singles, so -- >> reporter: instead of filling the bags with singles as she claims, barrera went straight for her bank's big bills. what you can see is that aurora, in loading up the money, took only the large bills and left behind the ones -- if it was your bank and you -- you were trying to protect it, you'd think you'd start with the ones and leave the hundreds behind. >> reporter: but all of these red flags are just circumstantial evidence. the license plate of the getaway car is not. watch, right after berrara drops the money out the bank's back door, her co-worker rushes to look out a side window, glimpsing the license plate and giving investigators a solid break in the case. the car is linked to barrera's boyfriend, ray vega, an ex-marine and a firearms
instructor. vega is cocksure of himself and a tad too angry when the cops call him in for questioning. >> i'm pretty pissed off. you could have called me, man. i got hooked in front of a bunch of people. that's really jacked up, joe. >> he was very agitated. he was angry at the fact that he was being investigated for being part of the robbery. >> i may be a man-[ bleep ] or a dirt bag, but i'm not a bank robber. >> reporter: try telling that to your accomplice, brian perez, who spoke to us in an exclusive interview. >> how would you describe vega? >> an intimidating guy. vega just came off as, like, a james bond kind of wannabe. you look into his eyes and you kind of realize that he might not be totally sane. >> reporter: perez, who will later become one of the chief witnesses against both vega and barerra, laid out the whole heist to us while driving through the key east l.a. locations. >> basic plan was he had a
girlfriend that worked inside, was gonna be a bomb on her chest, she's gonna throw money outside of a door, someone was supposed to pick it up and drive off with it. >> what did you think? >> crazy. in my mind, i was like, "well, this guy's nuts." >> and yet you agreed to it. >> i did agree to it. he threatened me he could put a bomb in -- in my car, or my parents' car. >> reporter: fearing vega, perez continues with the plan. that's him rendezvousing with vega in a parking lot near the bank. later, perez transfers the loot to this suitcase and heads to a ramada inn seven miles away from where the heist went down. here, perez, vega and the driver of the first getaway car, richard menchacca were to begin splitting the spoils. >> vega shows up. he enters through the door right there. first thing, he looks, he doesn't even look at us, he looks at the money on the table. he just says, "i can't believe it, you know. we got away with it." >> is that what he says? >> yeah. >> is that what he says?
>> reporter: they all might have gone scot-free if not for ray vega's king size ego. even in front of the cops, humility is not one of his strong suits. in fact, he's so confident in himself that he -- he's basically begging you to go look for information on him. >> yeah, he's filling holes before we even find them for us. >> reporter: like this. >> if you guys can pull up my phone, you guys can see the history. and you guys can see where it pinged off the cell phone towers wherever the hell i was. >> reporter: they did and he wasn't. his phone was using cell towers 20 miles away when he was supposed to have spent all night at this days inn. >> i do think he believed that he could convince us that his story was true. enough so that we wouldn't look into it further. >> reporter: even after being arrested and out on bond, vega couldn't help himself. in a vain attempt to buddy up to the cops, he calls detective settles with -- get this -- a christmas voice message. >> we are on the opposite sides
of the [ bleep ] trench right now man. regardless, merry christmas. be safe and maybe we can [ bleep ] end this -- so that we can go have a beer. >> reporter: at trial, brian perez' testimony against his former accomplices proved crucial. he was sentenced to five years probation. so was barrera the master mind of this heist or just one of the players? >> she walked into the bank armed with a hoax explosive. >> i would always think that aurora planned everything inside the bank, because she knew the bank she knew how to get into the vault. >> the money made it out the side door of the bank, which was the ultimate goal. >> so to that extent aurora pulled it off? >> she did. >> reporter: in the end, while the criminals were caught, where's the money? >> if anyone has the answer to that, they can feel free to give our office a call. >> reporter: as for the bomb squad guys who were willing to risk their lives to save
aurora barrera, i couldn't help asking. when you learned ultimately that she was part of the hoax, what went through your heads? >> it was one of those moments where you -- you think you've seen it all. and then you find out that you haven't, you know? the all new, head turning cadillac ats coupe. it's irresistible. ♪
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