From jail, celebrity chef claims he robbed Orinda bank

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- A 54-year-old celebrity chef in the East Bay is behind bars because he stands accused of robbing a bank in Orinda earlier this week.

Valentino Luchin talked with ABC7 News Friday from inside the Martinez detention facility. In that interview, he admitted robbing a Citibank in Orinda around 11 a.m. Wednesday saying, "I went inside and said 'good morning. Nobody move. This is a robbery.'"

Sitting in his yellow jail garb the celebrity chef described his desperation after his acclaimed restaurant Ottavio in downtown Walnut Creek closed down in late 2016 and he became unemployed. "We've been struggling a lot financially and I have a family. I feel bad. It wasn't something I was planning or doing for a living," he said.

He claims that Wednesday morning he decided to get money and went to the bank. "It was a fake gun, a BB gun," he said. Luchin told the frightened teller "nothing is going to happen. Just put the money aside."

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A suspected serial bank robber who was arrested on Wednesday has been identified as Kenneth Ellis of Stockton.

Orinda Police Department Chief Mark Nagel said they responded to call at the bank describing a man holding a pistol or a firearm in a manner that was threatening. "The tellers complied and gave him the money. He fled the bank and entered a vehicle," Nagel said.

Witness accounts and surveillance video enabled police to get a license plate number on the dark older model Mercedes. After the robbery Luchin said he drove back to his home in Lafayette. Police said he had over $15,000 in cash.

Officers followed Luchin as he drove away from his house and arrested him at an athletic club parking lot on Mt Diablo Boulevard in Lafayette just three hours after the heist.

He faces robbery charges and is being held on $100,000 bail. Luchin asked ABC 7 News to call his wife and ask her to post bail. She did not answer her cellphone.

Luchin said he wrote a letter of apology from jail addresses to the bank teller that says in part, "I'm sorry for the inconvenience to be in front of you with a gun."
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