Fifteen years ago, a man named Rolando Ramos walked into a security trailer at Soboba Casino at around 4:15 a.m. Two hours later, he was sitting in a room full of cash at a Motel 6 in Palm Springs.
The Soboba Casino heist is one of the most brazen casino robberies in United States history. Soboba is a Southern California casino located in San Jacinto, about 85 miles east of Los Angeles. It is owned and operated by the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians.
How the Soboba Casino heist went down
Ramos was a security camera tech at the casino. He planned the heist with Eric Aguilera, a fellow casino security employee. The two used their knowledge of the casino’s inner workings to come up with the following plan:
- Ramos and Aguilera would enter the casino’s security office and neutralize the three security staff that were on duty in the office.
- Then, Ramos would call vault security and tell them he had to enter the vault to repair a camera.
- Once inside the vault, Ramos would brandish a BB gun, hold security personnel at bay, and pack up as much cash as he could take with him.
And that’s pretty much how the robbery went down on Aug. 2, 2007, according to court records. Ramos and Aguilera drove up to the casino early in the morning and entered the security trailer.
Ramos then convinced the security manager to go to a back room with him, where he pepper-sprayed him and tied him up with duct tape. He then returned to the office and brandished a BB gun to get the other two employees to go to the back room, where Ramos bound them with the tape.
From there, Ramos called casino security and asked them to meet him at the vault to do a camera repair. Ramos and seven employees entered the vault for the “repair.” He pulled out his gun once more and ordered everyone to put their hands up and “stand in the corner facing the wall.” He threatened to shoot them if they didn’t follow instructions.
He then jammed $1.582 million into a duffel bag, left the vault, walked through the casino and exited through an emergency door.
How Ramos was caught
While Ramos’ heist went off without a hitch, he faced one small problem: At least 10 employees saw his face. It was immediately apparent the heist was an inside job and Ramos was the ringleader.
That same day, a Riverside County Sheriff’s Department investigator executed a search warrant at Aguilera’s home and found a black duffel bag with around $550,000 in it.
Two days later, a sheriff’s deputy arrested Ramos in a motel in Gardena. A detective who executed a search warrant looked under a mattress and found a pillowcase filled with $804,239.
The aftermath of the Soboba Casino heist arrest
In a jailhouse interview less than two weeks after the heist, Ramos spun a wild defense involving cocaine, a Hollywood blockbuster and Aguilera.
Ramos told the Hemet Press-Enterprise that he was high on cocaine when he robbed the casino.
“I was so fried up. I acted on adrenaline. Now that I’m completely sober, I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I did that.'”
Ramos seemed surprised at the media attention he received for the robbery.
“Did I top ‘Ocean’s Eleven‘ or something? I didn’t even know how much I got away with.”
He also told the paper that he wasn’t the mastermind. It was Aguilera all along.
“He’s the one who watches the cameras. He’s the one who knows where everything is. I’m just a pawn.”
While Ramos was relatively vocal in the interview, during his trial, his legal team did not provide any evidence in his defense.
Rolando was found guilty of second-degree robbery, false imprisonment, battery and multiple other counts. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The jury also found Aguilera guilty of multiple counts. He was sentenced to 12 years.
Both men appealed their convictions. A judge reversed Aguilera’s judgment and threw out two battery charges against Ramos.