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Ex-officer in rogue cop case describes his descent into crime

January 09, 2008|Scott Glover | Times Staff Writer

Testifying with the confidence and poise of the expert witness he once was, disgraced Los Angeles police Officer Ruben Palomares told a federal court jury Tuesday how he went from being an idealistic young officer who wanted to be a role model for troubled kids to a cynical and corrupt cop at the center of a home-invasion robbery ring.

Dressed in a green prison jumpsuit, Palomares faced the jury, often arching his eyebrows or gesturing as best he could in handcuffs to help make his points.

Palomares, who faces a potential life sentence for his admitted role as mastermind of the ring, was testifying in the trial of two of his alleged cohorts, fired LAPD Officer William Ferguson and his brother, suspended Long Beach Officer Joseph Ferguson.

Palomares and 14 other defendants have pleaded guilty, but the Ferguson brothers are fighting the charges in front of U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess. Palomares is hoping that his cooperation will help him get a reduced sentence.

William Ferguson is accused of serving as Palomares' partner in numerous drug rip-offs staged to look like legitimate police raids. Joseph Ferguson is accused of driving Palomares and his brother to the LAPD academy to steal police cars to be used as props in the robberies and of acting as a lookout on some of the jobs. He is also accused of making a fake 911 call that resulted in the arrest and eventual imprisonment of a crew member who had fallen out of favor with Palomares.

Palomares identified both of the Fergusons in court and detailed their alleged involvement in various "jobs." Palomares said William Ferguson, whom he met while the two worked together briefly in the Rampart Division, was a thorough searcher whom he could count on to find drugs or money hidden in locations where they conducted their bogus raids.

"I used to joke that he was like a bloodhound," Palomares testified, a slight smile crossing his face. "If there were drugs, I knew he would find them."

He said Joseph, whom he referred to as "Joey," routinely scouted locations the crew was plotting to rob and provided surveillance while the robberies were underway.

Under questioning by prosecutor Jeffrey S. Blumberg of the Justice Department's civil rights division, Palomares at times sounded like an active duty police officer as he talked about "formulating a plan" prior to doing "takedowns" on the locations.

Blumberg asked about the significance of arriving at the locations in a police car.

"That way we wouldn't have any resistance or any problems," Palomares said.

Palomares testified about the details of more than a dozen robberies or attempted robberies of the approximately 40 he says he and his crew committed. He guessed that he and his cohorts stole about $1 million in drugs and cash between 1999 and 2001, when he was arrested while trying to buy 10 kilos of cocaine from undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents in San Diego.

Palomares said he turned to crime after getting hurt on the job and becoming disillusioned by the suspension and subsequent firing of officers implicated in the Rampart police corruption scandal. He also had money troubles.

Palomares admitted on the stand that he and fellow officers periodically planted drugs -- "cop dope," he called it -- on suspects against whom they didn't have sufficient evidence and then wrote false police reports, but he said he felt doing so was justified.

"We felt we were at war," he said. The officers who did such things, he said, "were the officers who really did their jobs and didn't let the gang members win."

He said he first entered into a deal with an old friend who was a drug dealer. The friend told Palomares where he could find large amounts of drugs or money to rob with his crew. The robbers then would split the proceeds with the dealer and his wife, he testified. He said he later forged a similar relationship with a real estate agent who specialized in renting safe houses to Mexican drug dealers.

The former officer described one incident in which he and Ferguson, in uniform, raided a drug dealer's house and found 50 kilos of cocaine. He said the two loaded the drugs into a patrol car they had commandeered, then shifted the cocaine into an accomplice's truck in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium before returning the police car to the nearby LAPD academy.

Palomares is scheduled to be cross-examined today.

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scott.glover@latimes.com

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