A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, who was scheduled to stand trial next week, pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges of stealing and laundering drug money and filing a false income tax return.
Daniel M. Garner, who is serving a five-year prison term for a similar 1990 conviction, admitted stealing $170,000 from drug traffickers during two raids in 1986 and said he used stolen funds to help purchase a BMW for his wife and a condominium.
When asked by U. S. District Judge William J. Rea if he had committed the six criminal counts outlined in a federal indictment, Garner replied tersely: "Yes, I did."
Garner did not elaborate on his role in a money-skimming scandal that has shaken the Sheriff's Department and has resulted in 11 convictions since investigators began their inquiry 3 1/2 years ago. Five deputies and a Los Angeles police detective are on trial on federal civil rights and corruption charges linked to the scandal.
Garner, 46, a former deputy on an elite sheriff's anti-narcotics team known as Majors II, is the fourth ex-deputy to plead guilty to charges that they skimmed money from narcotics traffickers and money launderers.
Unlike the others, Garner has balked at cooperating with government investigators and testifying against his onetime colleagues, even though his guilty plea means he could face 93 years in prison and $2.5 million in fines.
"He understood he could make a deal and save himself at the expense of others," said Alan Rubin, one of Garner's attorneys, after the court hearing. "But he felt he could not in good conscience inflict pain on other people."
Garner, whose appeal of his first conviction is now moot, had been scheduled to go on trial Tuesday with his wife, Yhvona, and two former narcotics officers--Tyrone Powe and Robert Juarez.
Yhvona Garner is accused of laundering money stolen during drug raids and depositing some of the cash in bank accounts. She has entered a plea of not guilty and has maintained that she was unaware that the money came from illegal sources.
Powe and Juarez are accused of conspiracy, theft and income tax charges and have also pleaded not guilty.
Garner's plea is not expected to delay the start of the trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys said.
Attorney Harland Braun, who represented Garner during his first trial, said the ex-deputy has refused to assist prosecutors, in part because he believed that prosecutors were trying to "squeeze" him by indicting his wife and attempting to seize the couple's Irvine home.
"The reason he decided to plead guilty was to accept responsibility for what happened," Braun said, "yet he didn't want to become a stool pigeon for the government."
It is unclear whether Garner will be called to testify in the trial. Even without Garner's cooperation, prosecutors can use two other former deputies who were once co-defendants in the case--Virgil Bartlett and Eufrasio G. Cortez. They have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the government. Robert R. Sobel, another ex-narcotics officer who has pleaded guilty and testified at two trials, is also expected to be called as a witness.
"I think (Garner's) plea shows that our investigation is successful and we're making progress in getting to the bottom of the police corruption problem in Los Angeles," said Assistant U. S. Atty. Steven M. Bauer.
Prosecutors told Rea that they are ready to show that Garner and other deputies participated in a number of thefts, including the theft of $30,000 from the home of money-launderer Jorge Castano in March, 1986, and the theft of $140,000 from a Glendale apartment in September, 1986.
In pleading guilty, Garner admitted his role in both thefts, and Rea set a sentencing date for May 11.