Police: Wash. bicycling bank robber used loot to cover gambling losses

BOTHELL, Wash. - A prolific bank robber who used a bicycle to make his escapes used the stolen loot from his heists to cover thousands of dollars in gambling losses, according to court documents filed in the case.

The suspect, identified in court records as Cristian C. Babalai, 29, of Bothell, was arrested Friday morning after a five-month investigation. He was then booked into King County jail for investigation of eight counts of bank robbery.

Bail was set at $800,000 - or $100,000 per count - at a Saturday court hearing. He has not yet been formally charged.

According to court records, Babalai is suspected in a string of armed bank robberies from May 2 through Sept. 12, earning the nickname "Tour de Banks robber." In the two most significant heists, he got away with $77,000 from a Monroe bank and $40,000 from a Mill Creek bank, court records say.

In all of the robberies, the suspect displayed a Glock-type pistol, wore a black face mask with eyeholes, spoke in a "European" accent and made his getaway on a bicycle.

When investigators reviewed surveillance video, they discovered that the robber had driven a silver Mercedes Benz C220 or C280 to at least two of the crime scenes.

A review of owner registrations found that Babalai drives a 1995 Mercedes C220 and lived near downtown Woodinville during the robbery spree. He also deposited large amounts of cash in to his bank account after the largest robberies, according to court documents.

As the investigation continued, detectives working the case learned that Babalai had a gambling habit and lost $60,000 during the time of the robbery spree. Cell phone records also showed Balalai's phone was in the vicinity of each of the eight bank robberies as they happened, court records say.

A search warrant was issued and a Glock pistol was recovered from Babalai's home. His employees also told police that he had recently been paying them in cash, which was not normal.

The arrest was the result of an extensive collaborative effort between the King County Sheriff's Office, the FBI Safe Streets Task Force and detectives from Bothell, Monroe, Arlington, and Mill Creek Police departments, said King County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Cindi West.