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Former DEA Agent Called a 'Crooked Cop' at Trial : Courts: Prosecutor says Darnell Garcia has repeatedly lied about his role in drug trafficking scandal. He admits committing more than 20 felonies while in law enforcement.

March 01, 1991|RONALD L. SOBLE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A government prosecutor lashed out Thursday at Darnell Garcia, branding the former federal agent "a corrupt cop" who has repeatedly lied to jurors about his role in a Drug Enforcement Administration corruption scandal.

In a half-day of intense questioning from Assistant U.S. Atty. Joyce Karlin, Garcia readily admitted he committed more than 20 felonies--including jewelry smuggling and tax evasion--while a DEA agent. But he denied playing a role in stealing seized narcotics, or drug cash.

"All of your crimes were motivated by greed, weren't they?" Karlin asked.

"I wouldn't characterize it like that," Garcia replied. "They were motivated by profit."

"And that makes you a corrupt cop, doesn't it?" she asked.

"That's a judgment you have to make," Garcia said.

Garcia, 44, of Rancho Palos Verdes, is being tried in Los Angeles federal court on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and leaking DEA intelligence information to a drug fugitive.

Two other DEA agents who worked with Garcia in the DEA's Los Angeles office have pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and have testified that Garcia was a major participant in their crime spree.

In refuting the two agents' allegations, Garcia testified that his $3-million Swiss account was generated by commissions paid him by an Italian jewelry firm to smuggle gold chains through U.S. Customs at Los Angeles International Airport.

It was the first time that Karlin, a veteran prosecutor who spent five years investigating the corruption scandal, has had an opportunity to confront Garcia.

She lost no time interrogating him about his admitted felonies--jewelry smuggling, not reporting six-figure Swiss bank deposits to the Internal Revenue Service and avoiding federal bank reporting requirements for big cash deposits.

Garcia was a fugitive for seven months before being arrested in Luxembourg in July, 1989. Under the terms of Garcia's extradition to the United States, he was not charged with the admitted violations.

Karlin produced several of Garcia's federal income tax returns for the middle 1980s in which he did not declare his Swiss deposits.

"You were willing to lie to protect your ill-gotten gains?" the prosecutor asked.

"Yes," Garcia said.

"Just as you are willing to lie to this jury to prevent your conviction?" Karlin queried.

"No," the defendant replied.

Alleging that Garcia was an inveterate liar, Karlin told jurors he even lied to the panel when he said he had only one teen-age son, Daniel. In fact, Karlin declared, Garcia had a second child, Gabriel, born last October to Angie Zuniga, 35, described by a DEA agent in a declaration as Garcia's "paramour."

Karlin alleged the child was conceived while Zuniga visited Garcia while he was imprisoned in Luxembourg. Garcia denied paternity, saying a guard was always "within five feet of me" during Zuniga's visits.

Garcia recalled when, in March, 1986, he and the other former DEA agents, John Jackson and Wayne Countryman, each deposited several hundred thousand dollars into Swiss accounts. The government alleges the cash represented drug profits.

The defendant said he had no knowledge that his two colleagues were involved in drug trafficking. Jackson's cash, Garcia said he believed, came from a video arcade Jackson owned.

Karlin asked if Jackson's deposits of $562,000 in cash and $212,000 in cashier's checks were generated by quarters from Jackson's arcade machines.

"That's what he told me," Garcia said.

"And you believed it?" Karlin asked.

"I don't think I questioned it," the defendant said. "I didn't care."

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