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Former Rampart Division Officer Sentenced to 15 Years in Drug Case

Ruben Palomares is also under investigation by federal authorities, who believe that he ran a criminal organization involved in robberies.

May 15, 2003|Matt Lait and Scott Glover | Times Staff Writers

SAN DIEGO — Former LAPD Officer Ruben Palomares, under investigation for allegedly heading a network of thieves who committed home invasion robberies and other crimes, was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison on federal drug trafficking charges.

Palomares, a onetime Rampart Division officer, pleaded guilty last year to trying to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine from undercover DEA agents. The drug case, however, doesn't end his legal problems.

Federal authorities believe that Palomares, 33, ran a criminal organization of friends, relatives and other officers who committed robberies, sometimes while dressed in police uniforms and driving squad cars taken from the Los Angeles Police Academy, according to documents and law enforcement sources. He and three others are also under investigation in connection with an unsolved murder in Huntington Park, detectives said.

Palomares' attorney disclosed in court Wednesday that the ex-officer has provided some cooperation to authorities in Los Angeles investigating those crimes. Prior to the judge imposing sentence, attorney David H. Bartick requested a confidential conversation with the judge in which he intended to argue that his client had provided "substantial cooperation" to federal investigators. He said that Justice Department officials were operating in bad faith by failing to recommend a reduced sentence on the drug charges in return.

A lawyer for The Times objected to the proceedings being held in private, but was overruled by U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan, who determined that information related to the ongoing investigation and its disclosure could put Palomares and others at risk.

Moments later, Whelan summoned Bartick, Palomares and prosecutor Randy Jones to the front of the courtroom, where they gathered around a stenographer and talked in hushed tones for about 20 minutes.

In the end, Whelan did not agree that Palomares' cooperation warranted a reduced sentence. Nonetheless, the 15-year sentence the judge imposed was the minimum under federal guidelines.

Before the sentencing, Palomares addressed the judge, saying that he was sorry for his involvement in the botched drug deal and that he will regret his actions for the rest of his life.

"I want to apologize for the whole incident ... the struggles and pain that I've caused everybody," said Palomares, who was dressed in a tan, jail-issued jumpsuit and white sneakers. "I just snapped."

As more than a dozen of his relatives looked on, some of them wiping away tears, Palomares told the judge he has since turned his life over to God. Despite his regrets, he said, his arrest has made him a "better man, a better son, a better father."

Bartick argued before the judge, as well as in court documents, that his client deserved leniency for a variety of reasons. Palomares, he said, was raised in poverty in a household dominated by an abusive, alcoholic father. He said the gang members and drug dealers Palomares encountered in his neighborhood as a youngster made him vow to become a police officer.

Palomares' recent troubles began with a shoulder injury he suffered while on-duty at the LAPD, according to Bartick. The injury left him unable to work, and he became fearful that his workers' compensation was running out, the lawyer said.

Palomares began drinking, taking pills and began collecting debts for drug dealers to support his family, which consists of five children from two women, one of whom is also an LAPD officer.

"Mr. Palomares found himself in a very desperate situation ... which led to desperate measures," Bartick told the judge.

Prosecutor Jones, however, said Palomares had a promising career as a police officer and a supportive family, but for whatever reason broke the law. "He was a man who was above the law," Jones said, "a man who felt he could do what he pleased."

Palomares was arrested on June 8, 2001, in Chula Vista after he and four other men bought 10 kilograms of cocaine from undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents for $130,000. When agents attempted to arrest the men, Palomares initially flashed his badge and claimed he was working an undercover operation for the LAPD. He later acknowledged that was a lie. He was eventually fired.

One of the men arrested with Palomares that day immediately confessed his role in the drug deal and went on to implicate Palomares and others in a host of crimes.

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