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Vargas' Time for Crime Is a Jog in Park

Boxing: Junior-middleweight champion wears electronic anklet, allowing him to continue training for potential fight with De La Hoya.

January 08, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

World Boxing Assn. junior-middleweight champion Fernando Vargas, sentenced to 90 days in jail for assault, is serving his time by jogging down the streets of Oxnard, jumping rope and hitting the heavy bag in his neighborhood gym.

If all goes as Vargas hopes, he will formalize a deal Wednesday to fight Oscar De La Hoya on May 4, and then spend some of his remaining jail sentence attending news conferences in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and flying to Miami to do a talk show.

While it may seem as if the idea of punishment has gotten lost somewhere along the way, what Vargas is doing has the full approval of Santa Barbara law enforcement officials.

He is serving his time via an electronic monitoring system, the modern version of the old ball and chain. Vargas wears an electronic anklet that emits a radio signal, allowing authorities to track him at all times. Under terms of the agreement, Vargas must remain confined to his Oxnard home, but is allowed to run 90 minutes a day and work out at the nearby La Colonia Boxing Club, as long as he does not do so during public hours.

If Vargas, who has been under electronic monitoring for three weeks, does not violate the terms of the agreement, he is expected to be set free March 8.

Last September, Vargas pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit assault in the beating of Doug Rossi, who suffered a broken finger and cuts to the head when he was attacked by Vargas and several others in a 1999 incident in a home in the Santa Barbara area.

In addition to the 90-day sentence, Vargas was given three years' probation, 100 hours of community service and ordered to make restitution to the victim.

"Our aim was to see that Mr. Vargas was not treated any differently than anybody else," said Hilary Dozer, a senior deputy in the Santa Barbara District Attorney's office. "We bargained for jail time, but administrative decisions were made for electronic monitoring. We are satisfied that Mr. Vargas is being treated like anybody else. There are work furloughs and all sorts of other programs utilized in this county."

Thirteen percent of those serving sentences in Santa Barbara County are doing so by electronic monitoring. Some bargained for their electronic anklets. Others were given the anklets to prevent overcrowding in the jails.

"Normally, someone under this program can only stay home or go to work," said Victoria Rochester, a Santa Barbara probation manager. "It's a little different for Mr. Vargas because his work involves training."

And traveling to promote a fight?

"He could ask for permission to do that," Rochester said. "If changes were to be made [in the terms of Vargas' electronic monitoring], they would be made on a day-to-day basis."

While some might question the fairness of Vargas being able to continue his normal routine while supposedly paying for his crime, Rolando Arellano, Vargas' co-manager, endorses electronic monitoring as the most practical punishment for his fighter.

"It would be too much of a liability putting someone as well known as Fernando in jail," Arellano said. "This way, he is allowed to maintain his ties to the community and serve his time for the county."

Vargas' life is not totally free of interruption.

He has sacrificed by agreeing to work out in Oxnard until his time is served, rather than going to his training headquarters in Big Bear.

Vargas chose not to comment on that hardship or any other aspect of his electronic incarceration.

Vargas is expected to have plenty to say if all goes as expected Wednesday when his promoter, Gary Shaw, his co-manager, Shelly Finkel, De La Hoya's promoter, Bob Arum, and De La Hoya's business manager, Richard Schaefer, meet in Las Vegas to hammer out the final details of the proposed 154-pound championship fight.

Vargas won't be there.

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