Nine veteran members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department narcotics bureau were relieved of duty Friday while federal and county investigators pursue allegations that the deputies misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars confiscated in drug raids.
Sheriff Sherman Block, appearing saddened and subdued at an afternoon press conference, said the members of an entire departmental narcotics investigation unit--a sergeant and eight deputies--had been temporarily relieved of duties.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 23, 1989 Home Edition Part 1 Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Deputy Resigned--On Sept. 2, The Times reported that L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Rickey Ross had been "fired." While appealing that termination, according to a department official, Ross "resigned for personal reasons."
"I deeply regret that I have to tell you," the sheriff said, "that corruption has apparently touched members of my department and caused great embarrassment to all of us who wear a badge."
There was no immediate indication of how long the investigation is expected to take, but one federal law enforcement official said that arrests in the case could begin as early as next week. FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents, acting with search warrants, removed evidence from the home of at least one of the deputies late Friday.
A federal law enforcement source said that while some details remain sketchy, it appears that more than $200,000 might have been taken. There was no indication that narcotics were taken.
"It's not nickel and dime," the source said. "We don't know the full amount of money at this time. It could run into a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
"The money was not getting to the evidence vault. I think they took a little each time rather than a major amount."
Block refused to divulge many details of the allegations against the narcotics officers, all of whom worked in a unit that targeted only major narcotics traffickers.
The sheriff did indicate the possibility that not all of the deputies were responsible for the missing cash. But, Block said, "since these people work as a team, the entire team has been placed on administrative leave."
The nine officers worked out of the Sheriff Department's narcotics bureau headquartered in Whittier and handled investigations throughout the county, according to department officials. Block said some of the officers had worked together for several years and others for a shorter period of time.
Block said the investigation began last October when an internal audit showed what appeared to be a misappropriation of funds handled by the narcotics unit. The FBI was brought in on the case in May, and the IRS joined in July. No criminal charges have been filed in the case.
The eight deputies and the sergeant were placed on administrative leave, which will allow them to keep their guns and badges and receive pay while not performing any duties.
Fears Major Scandal
The sheriff declined to disclose the amount of money that the accused deputies allegedly misappropriated. He acknowledged, though, that narcotics officers in major cases "do come in contact with significant amounts of money."
Block expressed concern about the reputation of the county law enforcement agency. He said the corruption case "may turn out to be" the biggest scandal of his seven-year tenure as chief officer of the 10,700-member department.
"It's the first time anything of this magnitude has been suspected in this department," he said.
A top sheriff's official, who was not involved in the carefully cloaked internal investigation, said the announcement Friday came as a "total shock" within the department, which has suffered through a series of image-tarnishing incidents this year.
"We are devastated," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. "This is a terrible day for us. We are talking about people with excellent reputations.
"This was a 'majors crew' working on major traffickers exclusively. . . . They have been around a long time . . . . The question is whether it goes beyond this unit," he said.
The nine officers involved were identified as Robert Sobel, a sergeant with 19 years' service, and Deputies Terrell H. Amers, 22 years; James R. Bauder, nine years; Nancy A. Brown, 17 years; Eufrasio G. Cortez, 14 years; Ronald E. Daub, 16 years; John C. Dickenson, 10 years; Daniel R. Garner, 18 years, and Michael J. Kaliterna, 19 years.
Block described the nine as "some of our senior narcotics investigators,"
He said: "I wouldn't say the most elite, but certainly as evidenced by their years of service, there are some senior members of the department."
All day Friday and after dusk, federal agents were busy inside and outside Bauder's home in Palmdale. Neighbors said agents wearing jackets with FBI emblems had accompanied other officers inside the home and had removed items. One of the agents said they were serving a search warrant at the house.
Standing outside his house at about 7 p.m. after the federal agents had gone, Bauder, who said he had served for the last two years with the major narcotics team, denied the theft allegations.