Mask-Wearing Cancer Patient Mistaken for Serial Bank Robber

Police were called to the bank branch for what became an upsetting and confusing ordeal.

By Samantha Tata
|  Wednesday, Jul 3, 2013  |  Updated 6:19 AM PDT
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Cancer Patient Mistaken for Serial Bank Robber

FBI via Wells Fargo

The so-called “Surgical Mask Bandit” is seen here in surveillance photos sent to Wells Fargo employees June 21, 2013. Five days after this alert was sent out, an employee at a Montebello branch called police on a mask-wearing cancer patient believing he may be the robber.

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A major U.S. bank is donating $5,000 to cancer research after one of its employees in Southern California mistook a cancer patient for a serial bank robber with a penchant for wearing a surgical mask during heists.

A Wells Fargo teller flipped the silent alarm, believing the 57-year-old patient may be the “Surgical Mask Bandit” employees had been warned about five days prior. Police were called to the bank branch in Montebello, east of Los Angeles, for what became an upsetting and confusing encounter.

“It was a horrible experience for someone with cancer to go through,” the man’s fiancée told NBC4.

Joe Jaramillo visited the Wells Fargo on Whittier and Montebello boulevards shortly after 9 a.m. June 28, his fiancée said.

Because he underwent chemotherapy the day before, Jaramillo was wearing a surgical mask and hat when he approached the teller. He explained to the teller why he was covered up, according to Beatriz Ramirez, the patient’s fiancée.

The teller told Jaramillo to sit down because there was a discrepancy with his account, Ramirez said. Within minutes, Jaramillo was surrounded by police who ordered him to put his hands on his head. They asked why he was wearing a mask.

He replied, “I’m a cancer patient. I have cancer,” Ramirez said.

Officers searched through Jaramillo’s car before apologizing to him for the misunderstanding, Ramirez said.

“Somebody in his situation should not have had to gone through at all,” Ramirez said.

The so-called “Surgical Mask Bandit” for which Jaramillo was mistaken is wanted in connection with armed robberies in La Habra and San Juan Capistrano. He is described as a white male, between 35 and 45 years old, about 200 pounds, according to a Wells Fargo internal security notice.

The robber typically wears a surgical mask, khaki pants and sunglasses, and carries a black gun and a blue water cooler, according to a Wells Fargo internal security notice.

Jaramillo’s fiancée said the cancer patient was wearing shorts and flip-flops the day of the incident.
Wells Fargo released the following statement Tuesday to NBC4 about the case:

"Wells Fargo extends our sincerest apologies for any embarrassment or discomfort Mr. Jaramillo experienced during his recent visit. Unfortunately, the mask and hat he was wearing matched the description of a serial bank robber that has been targeting banks throughout the Southland. Our team members were on high alert, and we’re deeply sorry that Mr. Jaramillo was mistaken for the suspect the FBI refers to as the “Surgical Mask Bandit.”

"We feel very badly about the situation, and completely sympathize with Mr. Jaramillo as he undergoes his fight against cancer. As a sign of respect, and an act of good will, Wells Fargo is making a $5,000 donation to the cancer charity of Mr. Jaramillo’s choice."

Jaramillo chose to give the money to the American Cancer Society, his fiancée said.

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