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'Central Coast Bandit' suspect is arrested, charged, and pleads not guilty 

After the Central Coast Bandit evaded authorities for nearly eight months and robbed six banks in three different California counties, a six-day whirlwind of law enforcement activity resulted in the discovery, arrest, and arraignment of Cristina Fernandez Padilla, 50, who authorities allege is the culprit.

In a crowded San Luis Obispo courtroom early Aug. 28, Padilla, stone-faced and sporting a red prison jumpsuit, pleaded not guilty to all of the 13 charges filed against her.

Padilla, a resident of Watsonville, said she was unable to afford an attorney, and consulted with her public defender for approximately 45 minutes before entering her plea. San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett set Padilla’s bail at $1 million, citing the number of charges—and their seriousness—as well as a substantial flight risk. Her bail was previously set at $290,000.

Padilla was charged with 13 felony counts, which include five counts of burglary, four counts of robbery, and two counts of attempted robbery. She’s also charged with evading an officer and assault with a deadly weapon.

According to the SLO District Attorney’s office, robbery and burglary charges filed against Padilla in Monterey and Stanislaus counties were temporarily withheld from the criminal complaint while the jurisdiction of the case is being determined.

Authorities allege Padilla robbed six banks (four of which were in SLO County) in an eight-month span before her spree ended with a bungled attempted robbery at the Golden 1 Credit Union on Foothill Drive in San Luis Obispo on Aug. 23.

According to Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Tony Cipolla, employees at the Golden 1 recognized Padilla and hit the alarm to alert the police. She then fled the premises, allegedly leading law enforcement on a careening, 35-minute chase that zigzagged across surface roads, parking lots, and highways, reaching speeds of more than 100 miles per hour.

The assault with a deadly weapon charge was added to Padilla’s case after she allegedly rammed a vehicle in Paso Robles during the chase. Cipolla said the vehicle she reportedly hit was trying to clear the intersection at 24th and Riverside, but Padilla allegedly deliberately crashed into the vehicle and kept going. Cipolla said no one was seriously injured in that car, which was occupied by a mother and two young children.

The chase ended after Padilla crashed near 35th and Pine streets in Paso Robles. Cipolla said there were two dogs in the car with Padilla during the pursuit.

Eric Anderson, the SLO County Animal Services manager, said Animal Services and the Paso Robles PD teamed up to capture both the dogs—a Boston terrier and a Chihuahua—following the crash.

Anderson said both dogs are being kept at the Animal Services shelter as custodial holds. Padilla was notified of their status, and has 14 days to either designate a person to whom the animals should be released or relinquish ownership. As of press time, he said no response has yet been received from Padilla.

Because Padilla’s alleged string of robberies covered three counties, numerous jurisdictions, and even drew the attention of the FBI, Cipolla said it became a “very big case” that required a lot of cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

According to FBI public affairs specialist Laura Eimiller, federal authorities were still deliberating, as of press time, about whether or not to take Padilla’s case to the federal level.

Eimiller said that federal agencies have first dibs in cases like this, and pegged the odds of Padilla’s case going federal at “50-50.”

Padilla allegedly robbed or attempted to rob banks in Atascadero, Nipomo, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, and San Luis Obispo between February and August of 2013. Additionally, she allegedly robbed banks in Monterey and Stanislaus counties.

Frequently captured on surveillance cameras, the Central Coast Bandit was often seen smiling and making little effort to mask her face.

According to Padilla’s criminal complaint, she has a prior conviction for first-degree burglary in Monterey County from January 2005. This means Padilla, if convicted, will likely be ineligible for imprisonment in a softer, county-run jail.

The next hearing in Padilla’s case is set for the morning of Sept. 4.

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