"Bad cop" turned good. Holeeeee shit.
LOS ANGELES — In a case reminiscent of the LAPD's Rampart scandal, five rogue cops used squad cars, badges, uniforms, radios and guns to lead a criminal gang that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, weapons and jewelry by staging phony police raids, officials announced Thursday.
The group, made up of at least 19 people, pulled off at least 20 robberies over 30 months from 1999 to 2001 by posing as on-duty police officers serving search warrants and executing vehicle stops, law enforcement officials said during a news conference at U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles. Six suspects were indicted by a federal grand jury this week; 13 others had previously been indicted, but those indictments were unsealed only this week.
Three Los Angeles police officers were involved in the scandal, including its alleged ringleader, Ruben Palomares, according to the indictment. One Long Beach officer and one state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer were also implicated.
"These are traitors to the badge, traitors to their fellow officers, and, most important, traitors to the public trust," said LAPD Chief William Bratton.
Law enforcement officials believe the robbery ring operated about the same time as the Los Angeles Police Department's infamous Rampart unit, which was exposed when a gang officer was arrested for stealing cocaine from an evidence locker and then testified about a pattern of misconduct throughout his division. This group under indictment is not related to Rampart, Bratton said.
"Quite obviously, something went very wrong at the Los Angeles Police Department in the mid-1990s," said the chief. "We had two separate groups, which is even more problematic. We had two sets of rogue officers operating within the department."
Officials believe Palomares' group — which included then-LAPD Officers William Ferguson and Jesse Moya, then-Long Beach Police Department Officer Joseph Ferguson and Department of Corrections Officer Rodrigo Duran — staged fake robberies at houses after Palomares received information that the locations were drug havens.
Palomares, who was assigned to the LAPD's Northeast Division but was on loan to the Training Division, provided the group with LAPD cruisers, badges and radios, according to the 68-page, 54-count indictment unsealed last week.
The raids were lucrative. Flashing badges at the alleged victims, the group would serve a search warrant or perform a vehicle stop, claiming to be on official police business. Once inside a residence, they'd often handcuff the alleged victims while they searched the house, taking anything of value, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien said.
In September 1999, they stole a rifle, a Rolex watch and about $20,000 from a house in Moreno Valley, according to the indictment. In October 2000, they recovered 600 pounds of marijuana from a home in east Rancho Dominguez.
The indictment also alleges they stole a Ford F-250 pickup truck, a Ford Mustang, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, $45,000 worth of pseudoephedrine pills and television sets off the back of a truck. They often beat people, and in one case used a stun gun, officials said. They then divided up the profits, according to the indictment.
"Our agencies have been tarnished by the actions of these officers," Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts said. "This will not be tolerated, simply said, whether you wear a badge or not."
The 4 1/2-year investigation into the ring began in June 2001, when Palomares was arrested in San Diego on suspicion of attempting to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine from undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, officials said.
Palomares, a former Golden Gloves boxer, joined the LAPD in 1993. He served in Rampart's Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, or CRASH, unit, which was at the center of the Rampart scandal, early in his career. He was convicted of drug-related charges in March 2002 stemming from the 2001 arrest, and was fired from the LAPD a year later.
Ferguson, 33, joined the LAPD in 1996, was fired in December 2003 and was arrested Wednesday. Moya, 29, joined the department in 1999, resigned in August 2004 and was arrested Thursday.
"What's heartening is that we were able to get them," Bratton said. "They are all former officers. They've been separated from the department for quite a period of time."
LAPD officials said safeguards such as the federal consent decree — established to oversee the LAPD in the wake of the Rampart scandal — random internal stings, more training, audits and oversight of specialized units, and tighter control of LAPD equipment should help the department identify rogue cops much sooner. The safeguards were put in place after Rampart — and after this robbery gang was active.