East Bay chef jailed on armed robbery charges

A Lafayette chef and former restaurant owner, is jailed on bank robbery charges.

Valentino Luchin, 54, told the Bay Area News Group he was depressed and desperate over his finances when he held up a Citibank branch in Orinda. It happened about 11 am Wednesday, and Luchin was in custody within a few hours.  

“He seemed to be a very successful restaurateur," said Barbara Nakamo, dining on S. Main Street in Walnut Creek, at what used to be Luchin's restaurant, Ottavio. 

Two years ago, Luchin closed the restaurant amid financial difficulties, including bankruptcy.

"You never think about people you know doing that, " said Nakamo.

She and her husband were fans of Ottavio during the six years it was open, and remember Luchin as a very friendly chef-owner.  

"He did his homemade burrata, and would come out to the table and share it with us," said Dean Nakamo. "And he did a lot of wild boar. His food was quite good, I enjoyed it".  

Now instead of serving meals, Luchin faces the likelihood of serving prison time. He is being held on $100,000 bail at Contra Costa's West County Detention Facility in Richmond. 

Bank video shows a man point a gun at a teller and pass a note demanding cash in large bills. 
He got more than $18,000, but  surveillance cameras got his license plate on his getaway Mercedes-Benz. 

That led police to the Luchin home in Lafayette. Officers watched until Luchin drove away again, and then apprehended him.

"No resistance, I think he understood what the situation was," said Orinda Police Chief Mark Nagel. "He followed our commands without any incident at all." 

The stolen money was found inside the house. 

"There were thirteen cop cars and a helicopter," said neighbor Scott Wahlberg, who came home from work Wednesday afternoon to find the police commotion. 

"No one just does that. At his age, to rob a bank for the first time, no one does that without something going wrong," said Wahlberg. "So I feel bad for him, and I feel bad for his family." 

Neighbors expressed shock that Luchin's admitted joblessness and money problems in recent years, led to such an extreme act. 

"This is not him," said neighbor Nicolette Valente Sunbury, who noted Luchin and his wife have rented  their Lafayette home for about eight years, and have two college-age children. 

When Ottavio was operating, the couple both worked there, Mrs. Luchin as a hostess.

"Police handcuffed her and took her to a patrol car for an hour and a half," said Sunbury. "And then brought her back because they saw she didn't have answers to what happened, he did it on his own."   

The pistol turned out to be a b.b gun. Speaking from jail, Luchin has said he never intended to hurt anyone. 

But police insist any weapon elevates the danger to everyone. 

"We can't call a time-out and say let's see what you have," said Chief Nagel, "and we have to go on what we know, what we see, and certainly the tellers thought it was real."  

Luchin told the Bay Area News Group the robbery was an impulsive act, that at the time it seemed like "a good plan" but that he now realizes "it was not." 

He is charged with four counts of armed robbery, one for each person he encountered at the bank.