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Probe Targets Alleged Bogus Police

Men calling themselves 'the posse' have reportedly been falsely arresting and robbing motorists in three Southland counties.

August 16, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department is investigating reports that a group of about six men masquerading as law enforcement agents -- and calling themselves "the posse" -- has been falsely arresting and robbing motorists in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Investigators said they learned of the alleged group last week after deputies arrested Jesse Adrian Wagner, 28, of Temecula on suspicion of impersonating a law enforcement officer. Since the arrest was reported, police have received several calls from motorists who say they were stopped and robbed by men posing as police, said sheriff's spokesman Chip Patterson.

Patterson declined to say whether Wagner was part of the group or had provided details about it. "We've got information from a number of sources," he said.

Wagner was a bounty hunter for Bull Dog Bail Bonds in Lake Elsinore. Patterson said he believes that members of the posse might also be bounty hunters.

Wagner apparently targeted Latino immigrants because he thought they were less likely to report the crime for fear of being deported, Patterson said. Wagner was released from prison in July 2002 after serving three years for a sex crime in Northern California and was on parole until February.

Patterson described Wagner as a "calm and confident" police impersonator who showed up after several traffic accidents and identified himself as a "state warrant officer" -- a position that does not exist.

Wagner was arrested when he arrived at the scene of an accident in Bloomington wearing a dark blue police-type uniform with a shoulder patch and badge, a gun belt, a baton, a Taser gun and a pellet gun, police said. He was driving a police model Crown Victoria with sirens, spotlight and windshield-mounted red lights.

At a previous accident scene, Wagner even offered his business card to legitimate police officers, Patterson alleged.

Dean Zioli, owner of Bull Dog Bail Bonds, said he hired Wagner about nine months ago because Wagner provided what appeared to be legitimate credentials to work as a bounty hunter. Zioli said Wagner never came to work wearing a phony police uniform, adding: "He did real good work."

But Zioli chided law enforcement officers for failing to recognize Wagner as a fake and even allowing him to enter several county jail facilities to book suspects.

"This guy was so comfortable that he was working with the sheriffs and the CHP," he said.

A sheriff's spokeswoman said the department is investigating how Wagner deceived law enforcement officials.

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