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U.S. Indicts 10 Sheriff Deputies : Narcotics: The L.A. County officers are accused of stealing more than $1.4 million seized in drug arrests. They deny all 27 grand jury charges.

February 23, 1990|VICTOR MERINA and DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted 10 Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department narcotics officers--including all nine members of an elite team--on charges of stealing more than $1.4 million in seized drug cash and using much of that money to buy homes, luxury cars, jewelry and stocks.

The 10 veteran officers were also accused of conspiring to take money from suspected drug dealers during narcotics raids over the last two years. Two deputies were charged with extortion, and eight face various money-laundering and tax-evasion charges in the 27-count indictment.

The grand jury also accused one officer's wife of helping hide stolen funds from the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies.

The indictment climaxed a 16-month investigation into what has become the worst scandal to shake the nation's largest sheriff's department in decades.

After federal prosecutors announced the indictment at the Federal Courthouse in Los Angeles, Sheriff Sherman Block told reporters that he felt "a great, great sadness."

"In 34 years (in the department), this has been the saddest day outside of a loss of life," Block said. "This kind of thing comes very close to that."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Thomas A. Hagemann added: 'No one in law enforcement likes, or would wish to investigate one's own but . . . the FBI, IRS and the Sheriff's Department have worked side by side in difficult times to ensure that this case was properly handled."

Indicted deputies and their attorneys contacted by The Times said that the officers were innocent of all charges.

Harlan Braun, attorney for Deputy Daniel M. Garner, said: "He's going to prove that he's innocent. He's been a good officer, and the judicial system will vindicate him."

All nine members of a narcotics team known as "Major Violators Crew Two" had used their law enforcement positions to steal cash from drug dealers and money launderers, the grand jury alleged.

After arresting or detaining a suspect and confiscating large amounts of cash, the narcotics officers often would obtain statements from the alleged traffickers disowning the money, the indictment said.

"Before turning in the seized currency to the (Sheriff's Department), defendants would steal a substantial portion of the currency for later distribution among themselves," the indictment said, adding that the officers would then file false police reports and understate the amount of money taken during the raid.

Named in the indictment were Sgt. Robert R. Sobel, a 19-year veteran who headed the narcotics team, and Deputies Terrell H. Amers, James R. Bauder, Nancy A. Brown, Eufrasio G. Cortez, Ronald E. Daub, John C. Dickenson, Michael J. Kaliterna and Garner.

The 10th indicted officer, Deputy Macario M. Duran, was a member of another major narcotics crew. He and his wife, Maria, were accused in the indictment of using a financial scheme to hide $88,500 in money allegedly stolen during drug raids and of using more than $11,000 as payment toward a Mercedes-Benz automobile.

Eight other deputies who were suspended in the money-skimming case were not named in the indictment. However, the sheriff and federal prosecutors made it clear Thursday that the investigation is continuing, and a Sheriff's Department source said there may be a second round of indictments.

The officers worked out of the narcotics bureau headquarters in Whittier and handled investigations throughout the county and region. Often working undercover, the officers made some of the county's largest cocaine and money seizures in recent years.

According to the indictment, one of the deputies told a colleague in late 1987 that he could "make him rich," and the following year crew members stole nearly $1.2 million in drug raids. They allegedly took another $200,000 last year before being suspended, the indictment said.

Among the specific theft allegations:

- In January, 1988, Cortez and Amers took $527,000 during a Woodland Hills raid. A month later, Garner used $20,000 of the money to help buy a condominium. Cortez spent $21,000 to pay for a swimming pool and $14,500 in cash for a 1928 Ford.

- In June, 1988, Cortez stole $30,000 from a LaPuente man and gave Duran a share of the stolen cash.

- That same month, Daub and Kaliterna stole about $350,000 in a Los Angeles raid. Daub reportedly gave Sobel some of the stolen money and told a fellow crew member that "I took so much it scared me."

- In July, 1988, Cortez stole $70,000 in a Diamond Bar raid. In two other raids later that year, Cortez took $135,000 and gave packages containing $10,000 to three fellow officers in December, telling them: "Here is your Christmas bonus."

- In September, 1988, Bauder stole about $40,000 in a Los Angeles raid--and barely a week later paid $3,000 cash for helicopter lessons.

The officers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash for vacation homes in Arizona, vehicles, home landscaping, stock market accounts, satellite dishes and a "horsing syndicate," the indictment said.

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