LAPD Officer Orchestrated Home-Invasion Robberies Done Under
Pretense His Crew Was Conducting Legitimate Police Searches
LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – A federal grand jury this week indicted six defendants – including three sworn law enforcement officers – on civil rights, narcotics and weapons charges for allegedly participating in a gang consisting of law enforcement officers and civilians who raided residences as though they were conducting legitimate law enforcement operations, but in reality were staging home-invasion robberies to steal drugs, money and weapons.
Following the arrest this morning of a suspended corrections officer with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, federal and local authorities announced the indictment, as well as charges that have previously been filed against 13 other defendants, including the leader of the group, former Los Angeles Police Officer Ruben Palomares.
The charges filed in this case allege that the defendants committed more than 20 robberies and burglaries from 1999 through 2001. The investigation into the gang began when Palomares and another member of his gang were arrested in San Diego on cocaine trafficking charges in June 2001. The investigation, involving agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Long Beach Police Department, found that the robberies were generally committed after Palomares received information that a particular location was involved in the narcotics trade. After planning the operation and conducting surveillance, the robbery team – which usually consisted of multiple sworn police officers in uniform or displaying a badge – gained access to the residence by falsely telling any occupants that they were conducting a legitimate search for drugs or drug dealers. Victims were often restrained, handcuffed, threatened or assaulted during the search, and on one occasion a man was hit with a stun gun. Although many of the raids did not yield the anticipated narcotics, the crew allegedly stole any items of value found inside the residences. When the group did steal items, they divided profits from the sale of the stolen goods among themselves.
During the course of the conspiracy, Palomares provided associates with official LAPD badges, uniforms, radios, firearms and other equipment. Some of the robberies were committed after the thieves drove to the location in official LAPD vehicles. The robbers used the LAPD equipment to make victims believe they were the subject of legitimate law enforcement operations and to minimize the defendants’ risk of being questioned if confronted by law enforcement officers.
“The depth of corruption and audacity among these law enforcement officers is nothing less than stunning,” said United States Attorney Debra Wong Yang. “While having a badge imparts some degree of power to an officer of the law, it also imparts a great deal of responsibility. In addition to rejecting their responsibilities to the law, these officers rejected their sacred responsibilities to their communities and their departments.”
Six defendants are named in a 54-count indictment returned by a grand jury on Tuesday. The three law enforcement defendants are:
Rodrigo Duran, 35, of Tehachapi, a former deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who has been employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since 1996 (he is currently on administrative leave);
William Ferguson, 33, of Huntington Beach, a former Los Angeles Police Officer who was terminated by the Department in 2003; and
Joseph Ferguson, 31, of Garden Grove, who is William Ferguson’s brother and a former officer with the Long Beach Police Department.
Duran was arrested this morning and is expected to appear before a United States Magistrate Judge this afternoon. The Ferguson brothers were arrested without incident Wednesday morning, and they were both ordered held without bond during their initial court appearances yesterday afternoon. The three defendants face multiple counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, conspiracy to possess narcotics with the intent to distribute, and using a firearm during a drug trafficking crime and a crime of violence.
“The reality is, no police department is immune from bad cops,” stated Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton. “I have no tolerance for intentional misconduct and will deal with it forcefully and aggressively. Supervision, safeguards and civilian oversight are used to monitor employees and ensure quality police service. No good cop wants to work with a bad cop. No good cop wants a bad cop in their Department. Today’s announcement proves we are committed to getting rid of those who would tarnish the LAPD badge.”
Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts stated: “When a police officer violates the laws that he has sworn to uphold, it erodes the public trust that we in law enforcement work so hard to build. The men and women of the Long Beach Police Department take great pride in their work and are fully committed to the safety of our community. Reckless actions by individuals that undermine the integrity of this department and damage the public trust will not be tolerated.”
The other three defendants named in the indictment are fugitives at this time. They are:
Michelle Barajas, 38, of Paramount ;
Armando Contreras-Lopez, 35, of Paramount; and
Oscar Loaiza, 35, of Montebello, who is a cousin of Palomares.
These three defendants are accused, along with the three law enforcement defendants, of conspiring to violate civil rights and conspiring to possess both marijuana and cocaine with the intent to distribute the narcotics.
The indictment alleges a series of incidents in which the robbery crew broke into houses and commercial establishments with the goal of obtaining narcotics and other valuables. Palomares was involved in all of the incidents, with the Fergusons and Loaiza participating in many of them. In one burglary, members of the gang allegedly stole 600 pounds of marijuana. In another incident, several co-conspirators allegedly stole television sets from an 18-wheel truck in Montebello. And, in another robbery outside a Fontana market, Palomares and another man dressed as a police officer robbed a man of $45,000 worth of pseudoephedrine pills, which are the key precursor chemical in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
Over the past 18 months, 13 other defendants have been charged in criminal informations filed in federal court.
Ruben Palomares, 36 of Diamond Bar, who was arrested on federal narcotics charges in 2001 and was terminated by the LAPD in 2003;
Gabriel Loaiza, 30, of Montebello, who received law enforcement training and unsuccessfully applied to be a non-sworn employee of the Long Beach Police Department in 2000, was arrested with Palomares in 2001;
Jesse Moya, 29, of Whittier, who was a Los Angeles Police Officer until late 2004;
Manuel Hernandez, 25, of Pico Rivera, who is a cousin of Palomares;
Alvin Moon, 30, of San Gabriel, who also received law enforcement training and unsuccessfully applied to the Los Angeles Police Department, was arrested along with Palomares and Gabriel Loaiza in 2001;
Manny Martinez-Godinez, 25;
Jessica Treat, 31, of Whittier;
Steve Quintero, 30, of Montebello, a custodial police officer with the Garden Grove Police Department;
Geronimo Sevilla, 32, of Whittier, who met Palomares while he was a LAPD explorer scout and who unsuccessfully applied to the department in 2000;
Jesus Estrada Dominguez, 40;
Pablo Estrada, 29, of La Puente, a friend of Gabriel Loaiza;
Juan Pablo Mendoza, 29, of Muscoy, who is a cousin of Palomares; and
David Barajas, 32, of Paramount, a longtime friend of Palomares who is currently in custody on unrelated narcotics charges.
FBI Special Agent in Charge J.P. Weis said: “These arrests serve as a testament to the dedication of local, state and federal law enforcement officers to ensure that within our community no one is above the law.”
The case related to the Palomares robbery ring are the result of a lengthy and ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Long Beach Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien
Chief, Criminal Division
Assistant United States Attorney Daniel J. O’Brien
Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section
Assistant United States Attorney Caroline C. Wittcoff
Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section