3 More Arrested in Rogue Cop Robberies
By Scott Glover and Matt Lait, Times Staff Writers
March 3, 2006
Nineteen people, including five former police officers, have been criminally charged in connection with a string of daring and sometimes violent robberies in Southern California, which were staged to look like law enforcement raids as the suspects used police badges and equipment to fool victims, federal authorities said Thursday.
Though the scope of the nearly five-year investigation was first made public in 2004, new details emerged with the arrests this week of a California prison guard — taken into custody Thursday — and of former Los Angeles and Long Beach police officers. Three other suspects remain at large, authorities said.
The group committed more than 20 robberies and burglaries in Los Angeles and neighboring communities over a span of 2 1/2 years until its ringleader, a Los Angeles police officer, was arrested in 2001 on drug charges.
"What makes this case so disturbing is that the defendants include five sworn law enforcement officers who abused their badges, their uniforms and their oaths of office to engage in criminal conduct under the pretense of conducting real police operations," said Thomas O'Brien, head of the criminal division for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles. "While this story sounds like a script from 'The Shield' or 'Training Day,' it actually happened."
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton focused his comments on the three former LAPD officers who allegedly were part of the crew. The officers, he said, "are traitors to the badge that the men and women of this department so proudly wear, traitors to their fellow officers and, most importantly, traitors to the public."
Most of the participants secretly pleaded guilty to their roles in the crime spree, which lasted from January 1999 to June 2001. Their pleas, in which they agreed to cooperate with authorities, had been kept confidential to protect the ongoing investigation.
The mastermind of the criminal enterprise, officials said, was former LAPD Officer Ruben Palomares, 36, a former Golden Gloves boxer who sparred with top-notch fighters such as Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley. His cohorts were friends, co-workers and relatives, authorities said.
One member was a former female boxer who trained with Palomares, they said.
In addition to the five sworn police officers implicated in the ring, at least four other crew members had ties to law enforcement. Two were graduates of a police officer training program at Rio Hondo Community College.
Another worked as a civilian custodial officer at the Garden Grove Police Department and yet another was an LAPD Explorer Scout who sought a job with the department but was turned down.
Authorities said Palomares' crew was highly sophisticated and organized. They wore police uniforms and badges during many of the robberies. They used LAPD squad cars and unmarked police vehicles during some of the heists, court records show.
During the crime spree, they stole more than 700 pounds of marijuana and 50 kilos of cocaine from drug dealers, which they then sold, court papers state. In addition, they stole cars, money, firearms and jewelry. In one particularly bold robbery, crew members identified themselves as police officers as they commandeered television sets from the back of a truck on a street in Montebello, the documents show.
Some incidents turned violent, with victims being kicked and beaten. At least one victim was shot with a stun gun.
According to court papers, the thieves used law enforcement tactics during the robberies. Some crew members were assigned surveillance duties, watching for police and potential witnesses. Other members — dubbed the "entry team" — would burst into locations. Victims often were handcuffed.
"Once inside the target locations, various co-conspirators would assault and beat the occupants to obtain information, search for narcotics, money and other valuable property," the 54-count indictment unsealed Thursday stated.
Authorities arrested three of the remaining suspects this week: Ex-LAPD Officer William Ferguson, 33, and his brother, ex-Long Beach Police Officer Joseph Ferguson, 31, who were both arrested Wednesday, and Rodrigo Duran, 35, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy and now a state prison guard.
The federal investigation of the criminal enterprise began on June 8, 2001, when Palomares and four other men were arrested in San Diego after having paid $130,000 to undercover DEA agents for 10 kilos of cocaine.
At the time, authorities searched Palomares' Diamond Bar home and seized 13 firearms — including six unregistered semiautomatic assault rifles, 150 boxes of ammunition and a money-counting machine.
One of the men arrested that day, Alvin Moon, immediately began cooperating with authorities. In addition to the robberies, Moon told authorities that he had witnessed Palomares and another crew member assault a young man after an argument at a restaurant.
Moon alleged that Palomares punched the 23-year-old man several times before Oscar Loaiza fatally stabbed him. Sources close to the investigation said Thursday that they have largely corroborated Moon's account and that the case remains under investigation.
Soon after the San Diego arrest, sources close to the investigation have said, LAPD internal affairs investigators began tailing William Ferguson. Within days, he loaded up his boat and towed it to San Diego, ostensibly to go fishing, the sources said.
Suspicious about the timing, investigators wondered whether Ferguson was planning to dump evidence into the ocean. They tailed him to the dock, but were unable to make arrangements to watch him at sea. State Department of Fish and Game agents searched the boat at the behest of police when it returned to shore, but found nothing.
Feeling the pressure from the joint FBI, LAPD and Long Beach Police Department investigation, other members of Palomares' crew began to cooperate, hoping to minimize their prison time. Two years ago, Palomares — who by then had been sentenced to 15 years in prison on the San Diego drug charges — agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with authorities. Though he faces a potential life sentence, he hopes that his cooperation will result in a reduction.
Two months after Palomares began cooperating, Jesse Moya, 29, another former LAPD officer involved in the crime ring, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate as well.
The Ferguson brothers have made no such deals. Even before joining the LAPD, records show that William Ferguson had five felony arrests on suspicion of theft and burglary.
While at the LAPD, he was the subject of numerous misconduct complaints, including one stemming from a 1999 on-duty shooting for which he was eventually fired. The city later paid $1.7 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the shooting was unjustified and subsequently covered up.
In addition to Palomares, Moya, Duran, Moon, Loaiza and the Ferguson brothers, others charged with crimes were: Armando Contreras-Lopez, 35, of Paramount; Gabriel Loaiza, 30, of Montebello; Michelle Barajas, 38, of Paramount; David Barajas, 32, of Paramount; Jessica Treat, 31, of Whittier; Jesus Estrada Dominguez, 40; Pablo Estrada, 29, of La Puente; Manuel Hernandez, 25, of Pico Rivera; Manuel Godinez Martinez, 25; Juan Mendoza, 29, of Muscoy in San Bernardino County; Steve Quintero, 30, of Montebello; and Geronimo Sevilla, 32, of Whittier.
(I wonder how many of these are illegals)
Oscar Loaiza, Michelle Barajas and Contreras-Lopez are fugitives, authorities said. Attorneys representing those charged either did not return calls or could not be immediately reached for comment.
For years, Palomares enjoyed an excellent reputation in the LAPD, receiving glowing reviews from his supervisors.
"A leader with a reputation for excellence," one captain wrote in the mid-1990s. "Another year of stellar service," wrote another captain.
The first hint that Palomares may have been a problem officer came from Rafael Perez, the disgraced ex-officer whose allegations of widespread corruption and brutality launched the Rampart scandal in 1999.
During his then-secret debriefings with investigators, Perez said Palomares, who also worked in Rampart, had intimated that he had been involved in a bad shooting in 1998 as well as other misconduct.
"I would look at everything Palomares has done," Perez told investigators, "every arrest that he's made."
Did everyone go to bed? I figured this one for at least three pages
So they were targeting illegals and drug dealers? There is a problem with this?
Didn't see anything about targeting illegals, I was wondering how many of THEM were illegals.......
This is the kind of thing I thought would ignite the debate, remember the no-knock warrants?
These guys were criminals in Cop clothes, badges, equipment, weapons, tactics AND marked squad cars
there is a thread going on already somewhere. Been about three days or so.
I think the cop bashing threads have burned themselves out. Sometimes the bashing is warranted, sometimes not, and people who blindly take only one side or the other need to unfuck themselves.
In this case, the PD needs to figure out how these twits were hired in the first place and make efforts to try and not let rejects like this ever join the ranks of LEO's.
It is not meant to be a bashing thread
It is meant to point out ANOTHER reason to end no-knocks
(I agree, wtf is the deal with their screening process?)
There are going to be some soar poopers when this is finished.
I must be daft this evening, I totally spaced the no-knocks aspects of this. Funny how criminals are now using police tactics to become more effective criminals.
Now that you are thinking of it in that light, doesn't it give you a cold chill?
Slightly more details, fewer names of the criminals
'Traitors to the badge'
Five rogue cops indicted in robbery ring
In a case reminiscent of the LAPD's Rampart scandal, five rogue cops used squad cars, badges, uniforms, radios and guns to lead a criminal gang that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, weapons and jewelry by staging phony police raids, officials announced Thursday.
The group, made up of at least 19 people, pulled off at least 20 robberies over 30 months from 1999 to 2001 by posing as on-duty police officers serving search warrants and executing vehicle stops, law enforcement officials said during a news conference at U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles. Six suspects were indicted by a federal grand jury this week; 13 others had previously been indicted, but those indictments were unsealed only this week.
Three Los Angeles police officers were involved in the scandal, including its alleged ringleader, Ruben Palomares, according to the indictment. One Long Beach officer and one state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer were also implicated.
"These are traitors to the badge, traitors to their fellow officers, and, most important, traitors to the public trust," said LAPD Chief William Bratton.
Law enforcement officials believe the robbery ring operated about the same time as the Los Angeles Police Department's infamous Rampart unit, which was exposed when a gang officer was arrested for stealing cocaine from an evidence locker and then testified about a pattern of misconduct throughout his division. This group under indictment is not related to Rampart, Bratton said.
"Quite obviously, something went very wrong at the Los Angeles Police Department in the mid-1990s," said the chief. "We had two separate groups, which is even more problematic. We had two sets of rogue officers operating within the department."
Officials believe Palomares' group - which included then-LAPD Officers William Ferguson and Jesse Moya, then-Long Beach Police Department Officer Joseph Ferguson and Department of Corrections Officer Rodrigo Duran - staged fake robberies at houses after Palomares received information that the locations were drug havens.
Palomares, who was assigned to the LAPD's Northeast Division but was on loan to the Training Division, provided the group with LAPD cruisers, badges and radios, according to the 68-page, 54-count indictment unsealed last week.
The raids were lucrative. Flashing badges at the alleged victims, the group would serve a search warrant or perform a vehicle stop, claiming to be on official police business. Once inside a residence, they'd often handcuff the alleged victims while they searched the house, taking anything of value, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien said.
In September 1999, they stole a rifle, a Rolex watch and about $20,000 from a house in Moreno Valley, according to the indictment. In October 2000, they recovered 600 pounds of marijuana from a home in east Rancho Dominguez.
The indictment also alleges they stole a Ford F-250 pickup truck, a Ford Mustang, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, $45,000 worth of pseudoephedrine pills and television sets off the back of a truck. They often beat people, and in one case used a stun gun, officials said. They then divided up the profits, according to the indictment.
"Our agencies have been tarnished by the actions of these officers," Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts said. "This will not be tolerated, simply said, whether you wear a badge or not."
The 4-year investigation into the ring began in June 2001, when Palomares was arrested in San Diego on suspicion of attempting to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine from undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, officials said.
Palomares, a former Golden Gloves boxer, joined the LAPD in 1993. He served in Rampart's Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, or CRASH, unit, which was at the center of the Rampart scandal, early in his career. He was convicted of drug-related charges in March 2002 stemming from the 2001 arrest, and was fired from the LAPD a year later.
Ferguson, 33, joined the LAPD in 1996, was fired in December 2003 and was arrested Wednesday. Moya, 29, joined the department in 1999, resigned in August 2004 and was arrested Thursday.
"What's heartening is that we were able to get them," Bratton said. "They are all former officers. They've been separated from the department for quite a period of time."
LAPD officials said safeguards such as the federal consent decree - established to oversee the LAPD in the wake of the Rampart scandal - random internal stings, more training, audits and oversight of specialized units, and tighter control of LAPD equipment should help the department identify rogue cops much sooner. The safeguards were put in place after Rampart - and after this robbery gang was active.
"There have been many changes since these events occurred," Bratton said. "This will help us find problem officers."
Three people named in the grand jury's indictment - Michelle Barajas, 38, of Paramount, Armando Contreras-Lopez, 35, of Paramount, and Oscar Loaiza, 35, of Montebello - remain fugitives, officials said.
tagged for the inevitable shit storm to follow
Here is some seed for the shit storm clouds
Bump to help promote shitstorm.
WTF? HOW did this guy get through the background check?
Wow, even criminals dont do no knock entries...
Good point, it looks like they knocked and waited for the victim to answer
Looks like I can't stir up shit
Convicted? No, never convicted[/Stripes]