Luis de la Garza was a longtime community and business leader in North Texas, a man who in 2008 voiced opposition to a proposed ordinance by the Farmers Branch City County that would restrict undocumented immigrants from renting in the city where he lived.A television executive, he quickly established himself as one of the most dynamic Latino leaders in North Texas.But de la Garza also had a darker side, one that involved robbing banks in North Texas.On Thursday afternoon, the man the FBI dubbed the “Mesh Mask Bandit” was sentenced to 20 years in a federal prison for robbing 18 North Texas banks and attempting to hold up up two others with a BB gun. He was given that name for the masks he wore to carry out the bank robberies.De la Garza, 59, admitted to federal agents that he committed the holdups, beginning in April 10, 2010 and ending on May 7, 2013, according to federal court documents. The robberies stretched from Plano to Arlington.He pleaded guilty to the crimes in November. In addition to the prison sentence, de La Garza must pay $149,509 in restitution.Authorities arrested de la Garza in June, and FBI agents said he had no plans to stop robbing banks.“In the days preceding the defendant’s arrest, agents observed him preparing for additional robberies and casing multiple banks,” according to federal documents. “Upon his arrest, agents seized the following items from the defendant’s vehicle: a pair of black gloves, two black ball caps, a black neoprene mask, two women’s stockings, a fake mustache, a “fat suit” to disguise his physical appearance, a BB pistol and his United States passport.”In every case, de la Garza wore a long-sleeved shirt, mesh mask, cap and gloves. Armed with a BB pistol, he would walk up to a bank teller and say, “Give me your money, and don’t look at me,” according to court documents.On April 5, 2013, de la Garza ran out of the Grand Prairie State Bank with $8,499, but a bank president realized his bank was being robbed, retrieved a gun and pursued him, firing five shots at him but missing.One of the first leads for FBI agents came in an April 22, 2013, holdup at a Wells Fargo Bank in Farmers Branch. A witness told FBI agents that he saw a man walk into the bank, pulling a mask to cover his face. The man robbed the bank and stole $18,616, but the witness said he saw the suspect leaving the bank and removing his mask. In both instances, the witness saw the suspect’s face. In a photo lineup several weeks later, the witness identified de la Garza as the man he saw robbing the bank. During an April 29, 2013, holdup at a Capital One Bank in Arlington, de la Garza entered the bank, pointed his pistol at employees and told them to “get on the floor.” He stole $4,208 in that robbery, according to court documents.De la Garza fought with a bank customer and a bank employee during a May 15, 2013, holdup at Chase Bank in Garland. As he began putting money in his jacket, de la Garza put his pistol on a counter. A bank customer grabbed the pistol and hit de la Garza in the head. A struggle then ensued with a bank employee, but de la Garza managed to break free and ran out of the bank with $12,432.
Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763 Twitter: @mingoramirezjr