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Burbank Official Arrested in Gang Probe

The councilwoman is charged with cocaine possession and child endangerment.

July 15, 2005|Wendy Lee | Times Staff Writer

A Burbank city councilwoman known for her work with nonprofit groups was arrested along with her boyfriend on suspicion of narcotics and firearms violations after police searched their homes as part of a larger investigation into a San Fernando Valley street gang.

Investigators found cocaine, three loaded handguns and 900 rounds of ammunition during a search of Councilwoman Stacey Jo Murphy's home in the 700 block of Lima Street when they searched it Wednesday, Burbank police said. A small amount of methamphetamine, two vials of cocaine, nine handguns and a large amount of ammunition were found at the Glendale apartment of her longtime companion, Scott Schaffer, according to authorities.

Detectives said they were drawn to Murphy, 47, and Schaffer, 51, during an 18-month police investigation into the Vineland Boyz, a gang suspected of widespread narcotics and firearms trafficking. A member of the gang is currently awaiting trial in connection with the November 2003 fatal shooting of rookie Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka, 26, though there is no evidence either Murphy or Schaffer had any connection to that case.

Murphy, who is divorced and shares custody of her 12-year-old son, was charged with child endangerment and cocaine possession. She was released Thursday after posting $100,000 bail but could not be reached for comment.

"It's heartbreaking" that a councilwoman could possibly be involved in such activities, said Burbank Police Sgt. Jay Jette. "Her fate is entirely in her hands."

Schaffer, who is believed to have sold numerous high-caliber and semiautomatic weapons to the gang in exchange for drugs, was charged with federal firearms and narcotics violations. He remained in custody in a federal detention facility.

Schaffer's roommate Robert Polloreno, 54, was arrested on suspicion of grand theft and is being held at Burbank Police Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Other community members were also stunned by the couple's arrest.

Only last week Murphy, who has served on the council since 1997, and Schaffer attended a Burbank police ball to raise money for a national monument for officers who have died in the line of duty, said Tim Murphy, the councilwoman's former husband. Schaffer, who until recently owned a Valley taxi service, was known in the community for donations to nonprofit groups, such as the Boys &Girls Club and the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, he said.

"If there is a cause in town, he's usually the first one to write a check," Tim Murphy said

Burbank Mayor Jef Vander Borght said he has known Stacey Jo Murphy for more than 20 years and described her as intelligent and someone who took her job seriously.

"Beyond being shocked and utterly flabbergasted, there's very little I can add," he said. "I've known her as a colleague and as a friend. I'm ready to stand beside her to the extent that I can. If she is guilty, she'll have to pay the consequences. If not, she'll have her day in court."

The search warrant affidavit for Murphy and Schaffer's homes detailed the investigation by the Vineland Boyz Task Force, which includes the Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles police departments as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the 18-page affidavit, 43 members and associates of the gang were indicted last month on racketeering, drug trafficking and weapons charges, including the murder of Pavelka and the attempted murder of a Officer Gregory Campbell.

Schaffer agreed to cooperate with authorities after a .45-caliber Sig-Sauer semiautomatic handgun found June 8 at the home of one gang member was traced to him. During an interview with investigators, Schaffer allegedly admitted purchasing cocaine from the gang and selling handguns to one member.

A confidential police informant also saw Schaffer selling several firearms to gang members behind a bar in North Hollywood, the affidavit states.

Schaffer told police that Murphy was aware that two of his associates, John Yribe and James Roberts, were members of the gang. He also admitted to allowing a gang member to borrow his car to transport narcotics or collect narcotic debts, according to the affidavit.

Schaffer also allegedly told investigators that he and Murphy had purchased cocaine at the bar and "recently used this cocaine." He said Murphy had stored cocaine inside the bedroom closet of her home, according to the affidavit.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether Murphy will continue her duties as a councilwoman.

Burbank City Manager Mary Alvord, who worked closely with Murphy when they served on the Burbank Parks and Recreation Board, said that Murphy would be allowed to attend meetings and vote, while the case was pending.

Murphy is scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Burbank on Aug. 25.

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