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Official at sheriff's youth charity is fired amid pot shop probe

Dawn Zamudio was an 'outstanding employee,' but her ties to marijuana dispensaries are 'shocking' given Sheriff Lee Baca's vocal criticism of such businesses, Baca's spokesman says.

January 11, 2013|By Robert Faturechi and Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times

The development director for a charity run by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was fired this week after federal authorities searched her home as part of an investigation into marijuana dispensaries operated by her husband, officials said Thursday.

The sheriff's spokesman called the discovery of Dawn Zamudio's ties to pot dispensaries upsetting given Baca's vocal criticism of such businesses.

"This is shocking to the sheriff and the entire department because she was such an outstanding employee," the spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said. "This is something that was withheld from the department and the sheriff. We are cooperating fully with this investigation."

The Times began making inquiries about Zamudio and her husband, Ramiro, last month. Public records connect Ramiro Zamudio to marijuana dispensaries in Marina del Rey and Los Angeles. Court records show that he had been arrested and charged with two felonies for transportation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale but that the case was dismissed in 2009.

Dawn Zamudio had been working for the Sheriff's Youth Foundation, which raises money for youth programs across the county, for the last decade.

Whitmore described her as an assistant at the organization. A 2011 filing listed her as the development director, making $103,700 that year and working 60 hours a week.

Sarah Pullen, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles, said that search warrants were served in connection with the marijuana investigation Wednesday but that no arrests had been made.

She said agents would examine what was seized at several locations to determine what charges, if any, should be filed. Among the dispensaries searched were Ironworks Collective, the Marina del Rey operation, and Downtown Collective on South Hill Street in Los Angeles. Federal records describe Ramiro Zamudio as running the operations.

Pullen said DEA agents seized guns at two dispensaries and ammunition and gun magazines at a San Gabriel residence. Federal authorities say the residence is the Zamudios' home.

Pullen would not say whether the Zamudios are suspects in the probe. Federal court documents in support of the search warrant name both but suggest Ramiro Zamudio is a key focus of the investigation.

The Times was not able to reach the Zamudios.

Baca has been a vocal critic of pot dispensaries, saying some have become hubs for crime and have been abused by customers who have no medical need for the drug. Whitmore said Baca did not know until this week that Dawn Zamudio was connected to the marijuana trade.

The DEA said in an affidavit that there was probable cause to believe that Ramiro Zamudio "organizes and leads a marijuana distribution organization that includes three marijuana distribution stores and a marijuana testing facility."

According to court documents, a security guard outside one of the dispensaries identified himself as a reserve sheriff's deputy.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

martha.groves@latimes.com

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