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LAPD officials unsure if 'Rico Suave' bandit held in Australia is the man they seek

February 3, 2011 |  5:30 pm

Australian police have arrested a Peruvian man suspected in several hotel room thefts and burglaries who authorities also believe could be the “Rico Suave” bandit responsible for a series of similar break-ins in Los Angeles that targeted an Israeli basketball team, a Mexican soccer team and a Florida sugar baron.

The suspect, identified in the Sydney Herald as Hernan Antonio Briones-Castillo, 44, was arrested Wednesday after he was spotted at a local currency exchange, New South Wales police said. He was charged with  impersonating a hotel employee in order to steal cash and jewelry from guests at  some of Australia’s most prestigious hotels, police said.

The suspect is believed to be responsible for thefts at hotels in Sydney on Jan. 4 and Jan. 13 as well as a jewelers in the Rocks area of the city on Jan. 21, authorities said. He allegedly stole two rings worth $54,000 at the jewelry store.

The suspect “attends prestigious hotels and pretends to be an employee in order to gain access to guest rooms,” police said. Once inside, police said, he steals jewels and cash from guests.

Police  in Sydney are working with authorities in Perth and Melbourne, where jewelry worth $90,000 was taken from a room at a hotel.

At the time of his arrest, the suspect was in possession of a false passport, according to a news release.

Los Angeles police detectives said Thursday that they are unsure whether the man arrested by Australian authorities is the same suspect who is believed to have committed dozens of local hotel thefts. 

"We are very interested in who Australian authorities believe to be our 'Rico Suave,' " LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon said. "So far, the Australian reports jump from arrest to the conclusion that he is one in the same Rico Suave but we have no way of knowing that for sure and the biggest question of all is, how did they make that leap?

"One thing is for sure, our 'Rico Suave' and their 'Rico Suave' are no two-bit thieves. They go for a high-end take and play it very cool.”

Last March, on Oscar weekend, the bandit, posing as a well-dressed hotel worker, made his way into the Four Seasons Hotel suite of a Florida billionaire and stole $40,000 worth of jewelry, according to police. Police suspected he may the same man responsible for similar break-ins.

In August 2009 , the man slicked back his hair and pretended to be a member of a salsa band playing at the Greek Theatre. He talked a clerk at the Wilshire Grand hotel into giving him the keys to the band's room and made off with $9,000. On his way out, he gave the clerk the band's CD.

A few weeks later, he donned a Chivas soccer jersey and hugged members of the Mexican team as they left another downtown L.A. hotel, the Marriott, on a team bus. Then, posing as a member of the team's entourage, he persuaded a hotel clerk to give him the team's room keys, making off with $10,000.

--Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein