A former Los Angeles police sergeant invoked his 5th Amendment rights Friday, refusing to answer questions about an alleged scheme to extort $100,000 in exchange for dropping a bookmaking investigation.
During a court hearing on Eric Portocarrero's petition to overturn his bookmaking conviction, former Sgt. Mark Arneson refused to answer half a dozen questions, including whether he used his position to "interfere with the administration of justice" in the case.
Portocarrero, who pleaded no contest to two bookmaking counts, has accused Arneson and disgraced private investigator Anthony Pellicano of offering to "fix" aspects of the case if the defendant's brother came up with $100,000.
Portocarrero is seeking to have his conviction overturned on the grounds that authorities failed to disclose that Arneson was under investigation for leaking confidential information to Pellicano and had been suspended three days before Portocarrero entered his plea.
Both Arneson and Pellicano are awaiting trial in U.S. District Court on charges of wiretapping and illegally obtaining information on celebrities and high-profile business executives in what federal prosecutors have described as a conspiracy to gain tactical advantage in high-profile litigation.
The Portocarrero case raises the prospect that Arneson and Pellicano also worked together to subvert the criminal justice system.
"I expected him to take the 5th," Portocarrero's attorney, Amy E. Jacks, said late Friday, referring to the constitutional protection against self-incrimination. "But why is the LAPD hiding the ball and playing games that frustrate our ability to show the truth?"
Citing the ongoing case, Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, would not comment on Friday's testimony. But she said prosecutors were opposing efforts to overturn the conviction.
Now free on bond, Arneson has pleaded not guilty to wire-tapping and other charges. Pellicano, who is being held in federal custody without bail, also has denied the allegations.
Arneson's attorney, Steven Miller, did not return calls seeking comment on the Portocarrero case. Steven Gruel, Pellicano's attorney, also could not be reached for comment.
Portocarrero was arrested in December 2001 on suspicion of running a sports betting ring. Arneson headed the investigation. As part of a plea deal, Portocarrero was sentenced to four days in jail, five years' probation and 90 days of community service.
In court documents filed as part of his petition to overturn his conviction, Eric Portocarrero's brother, Jan, said he received a series of calls from a private investigator who claimed he knew people conducting the LAPD illegal gambling probe.
The private investigator "told me details about what was supposedly happening inside Arneson's office," Jan Portocarrero said. He said the investigator offered to use his LAPD contacts to help "fix" aspects of the case. According to the documents, Pellicano's fee was $100,000 -- "for starters" -- some of which would go to Pellicano and some to his LAPD contacts.
Jan Portocarrero recalled the name of the private investigator as Anthony Pelligrino, but he later became convinced that it was Pellicano.