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Arrest shatters illusions of Robin Hood bank robber

Israel's favorite detective story took a strange twist Sunday when police identified a suspect in 22 bank robberies as an heir to millions who allegedly turned to crime to pay off his debts. News reports during his 21-month spree had given the suspect a Robin Hood image and the nickname "Bikerbank" because he rode a motorcycle.

Dozens of Israeli press and broadcast reports were devoted to his exploits, and his helmeted image adorned T-shirts and decal stickers.

Many Israelis were shocked when the suspect was identified as Roni Leibovitz, 37, whose family runs a large Israeli food products company and several businesses in New York.

Leibovitz, in custody in Tel Aviv, has acknowledged taking $175,000 from banks, but he had no charitable intentions, police said.

"When asked what his motive was, he said "money.' He said he did not want to take revenge against police or the banks, he did not want to be a national hero, but needed the money because of his debts," Tel Aviv police spokeswoman Dalia Gilad said.

The deputy police superintendent who headed the investigation, Chaim Pinchas, said Leibovitz was as meticulous in his planning "as an army operations officer," but not so in his financial affairs. He owed more than $1-million, Pinchas said.

The bandit would walk into a bank wearing a crash helmet and fire one shot in the air from a .38-caliber pistol. He always robbed the teller nearest the door.

Leibovitz unsuccessfully tried to run family ventures in Israel, media reports said.

Newspapers described Leibovitz's habit of dining out in expensive restaurants.

The daily Yedioth Ahronoth said the suspect "loved the beautiful life his background and surroundings could offer . . . a luxurious car, a car phone and a boat."

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