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Perez's Ex-Partner Reaches Plea Deals

Rampart: Nino Durden confesses numerous crimes in agreements that could lead to the prosecution of more police officers.


The former partner of disgraced ex-Los Angeles Police Officer Rafael Perez acknowledged his guilt in a wide range of state and federal crimes Friday in plea deals that potentially open the door to prosecutions of Perez and other Rampart Division officers.

Nino Durden, who is expected to serve a seven-year, eight-month sentence in federal prison, confirmed Perez's assertion that the two officers shot an unarmed man and then planted a weapon on him to cover their tracks. Durden admitted that he and Perez lied in court to help send Javier Francisco Ovando, who now uses a wheelchair, to prison on a 23-year sentence.

Durden, 32, also admitted guilt in other crimes--including conspiracy, perjury, grand theft and filing false police reports--growing out of three other incidents in which he said innocent people were either arrested or victimized.

Durden is the first officer besides Perez to receive a lengthy prison term in the collection of misdeeds known as the Rampart scandal. That alone would make Friday's announcement an important day in the probe, but a revelation that he is cooperating with authorities raises the possibility that more officers will go to prison.

"This is a very significant breakthrough in our investigation of police corruption in the Rampart Division," U.S. Atty. Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters at a news conference attended by LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and James V. DeSarno Jr., the head of the FBI's Los Angeles office.

Under the terms of Durden's deal with federal and state prosecutors, he will cooperate with ongoing corruption investigations.

Several law enforcement sources said Durden is expected to disclose incriminating information about other LAPD officers, including Perez.

In his agreement with the U.S. attorney, Durden, who resigned from the LAPD this month, acknowledged committing crimes with Perez and "other unindicted co-conspirators." He has already had several briefings with prosecutors, according to court documents.

"This is going to shake the tree," said one law enforcement source Friday.

Federal authorities hope to use Durden's testimony to prosecute Perez for the Ovando shooting, despite a plea deal Perez made with the district attorney's office in September 1999, according to high-ranking law enforcement sources familiar with the case.

However, any attempt to prosecute Perez in the Ovando case in federal court would be vigorously contested by his attorney, who argues that Perez's immunity deal with county prosecutors to avoid prison time prohibits such an action.

It was unclear Friday whether Durden would go as far as Perez has in implicating his former LAPD colleagues in wrongdoing, or support Perez's assertion that a band of rogue cops within the Rampart anti-gang unit routinely framed and beat suspects and covered up unjustified shootings.

"Is he going to give us other cops? I don't know," said one law enforcement source. "But what he does give us, I think, is Perez."

The development comes a week after three other Rampart officers were arrested and charged with crimes stemming from a 1998 beating of a gang member.

Two of the charged officers have already pleaded no contest to crimes in connection with the beating and have agreed to cooperate with authorities. The recent agreements with Durden and former Officers Shawn Gomez and Manuel Chavez could significantly advance the corruption investigation, which for several months has shown no obvious sign of progress.

At Friday's news conference, the county's top law enforcement leaders vowed to pursue the investigation wherever the information from the cooperating officers takes them.

"Corrupt police officers in [the LAPD], as in any law enforcement agency, are a cancer," DeSarno said. "Our goal is to locate the cancer, determine the size of the cancer and then remove the cancer, thereby leaving the remaining body healthy again."

For Chief Parks, Durden's admissions marked a bittersweet moment in the 18-month investigation.

"It is with some degree of encouragement yet sadness that we appear today," he said. "Sadness because the individual involved in being prosecuted is one of our own and he's been involved in some horrendous crimes and violated the oath of office that he took to protect and serve the citizens of the city of L.A."

Durden Remains Free on Bail

According to court documents released Friday, Durden, who remains free on bail, has admitted wrongdoing in four cases in which Perez had implicated him.

By far the highest-profile case is the Oct. 12, 1996 shooting of Ovando. That incident was the first one Perez talked about when he entered into a plea agreement, launching what is now known as the Rampart scandal.

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